All I Want For Health IT Week Is An EHR Overhaul

Robert W WahIf I had to capture the main shortcoming of electronic health record (EHR) technology in one word, this would be it: Usability.

As we’re observing National Health IT Week through Friday, I can’t think of a better time to call for EHR systems that better serve physicians and our patients. That’s why the AMA just released a new framework for improving EHR usability.

As a chief medical officer for a health IT company and a former deputy national coordinator in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, I understand the complexities of what’s required to make EHRs first and foremost usable systems for the medical practice. When I say “all” I want for Health IT Week is an EHR overhaul, I realize that’s no simple request.

But it is a basic request. Usability should be the driving quality of all health IT. Unless health IT functions in a way that makes our practices more efficient and facilitates improvements in our patient care, it isn’t doing what it was intended to do.

As my colleague Steven J. Stack, MD, AMA president-elect, has said, most physicians are stuck with technology that interferes with their ability to provide first-rate medical care. And that’s reflected in physicians’ professional satisfaction.

In the AMA’s study with the RAND Corporation released last fall, we identified that the primary driver of physician dissatisfaction was EHR technology that put up barriers to delivering high-quality patient care.

As part of our Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability initiative, we convened an external advisory committee of noted health IT experts and practicing physicians to develop priorities that should illuminate the path for improving the usability of EHR technology to benefit physicians and their patients.

Dr. Stack chaired this committee, which was responsible for developing the new framework (log in) we released this week. The framework outlines key challenges physicians face with EHRs and eight priorities that should be national priorities for improving the usability of this technology:

  • Enhance physicians’ ability to provide high-quality patient care
  • Support team-based care
  • Promote care coordination
  • Offer product modularity and configurability
  • Reduce cognitive workload
  • Promote data liquidity
  • Facilitate digital and mobile patient engagement
  • Expedite user input into product design and post-implementation feedback

The framework is particularly important in that it was developed by a combination of practicing physicians and noted experts, researchers and executives in the health IT field. So we were looking at how to improve EHR technology from a variety of perspectives, and the concepts offered are ones that can be executed.

To that end, we will be working with all stakeholders—physicians, vendors, federal and state policymakers, institutions, health care systems and researchers—to take these principles from ideas to realities. I look forward to witnessing the progress we’ll make by this time next year.

Robert W. Wah, MD is president of the American Medical Association