Docs should engage vendors about EHRs, not complain

Here's a refreshing perspective: "I think vendors of electronic health record systems [EHRs] are tired of hearing from complaining clinicians. We have written and spoken about why we have trouble using or adopting most EHR software. I think our beefs are justified. But to be effective in bringing about change, we need to engage instead of complain."

That comes from Dr. Jeff Belden, chair of HIMSS EMR Usability Task Force. Writing in the journal Family Practice Management, Belden, of the University of Missouri Department of Family and Community Medicine, offers three "bright ideas"--actually all of them are tried and true--for improving EHR usability: drop a line to the vendor or developer; offer to help with testing and development rather than merely complaining; and form vendor-provider partnerships.

"You might be surprised how open EHR software developers are to helpful suggestions--and one helpful suggestion may be all that's needed to initiate a significant improvement," Belden advises. While it may be difficult to track down the proper email address to send suggestions to, the payoff may be worth the effort. "Make it clear you don't just want to complain, but want to offer constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement 'so your product can be successful!'" says Belden. "I've actually had vendors email me their thanks, call me back to ask for details and try to understand better, and even let me argue my case. Sometimes you win, but you always engage."

When offering to help, the Columbia, Mo., family physician recommends getting in touch with the vendor's usability department, or simply showing up at a user-group meeting. "Offering to help is different from complaining about the software's deficiencies. The latter is perceived as whining--whining by users who weren't trained adequately, fear technology, are stuck in their old workflows, don't want to change, haven't installed the latest upgrades or haven't turned on the available features," Belden writes. But offering to help demonstrates a desire to make sure the EHR works.

On the organizational level, partnering often make sense. "This job isn't for everyone, but if you are willing to invest significant time, and the vendor is likewise willing to invest in you with money or other compensation, then the effort can be worthwhile for both parties," says Belden. "The rewards can be many."

Even smaller physician practices can get involved like this, Belden says. "[Vendors] will undoubtedly have some projects needing help from an organization like yours."

To learn more:
- take a look at this Family Practice Management story via Medscape (reg. req.)