EHRs: The elephant in the room

Electronic health records are a potential boon for the healthcare industry, meant to improve patient care, increase efficiency and reduce costs. Just look what information technology has done for the banking industry, the travel industry and retail sales.

So why there is so little consensus on whether EHRs are working as intended? Various studies have contradicted whether EHRs actually save time and decrease a practitioner's workload or increase burdens and impede work flow; they also have disagreed as to whether they really improve patient care or not.

Part of the problem is that researchers are surveying different users in different situations, a problem inherent in any set of studies. For one study saying eggs or coffee are bad for you, another says they're good for you.     

But what's going on here with EHRs seems to be more complex. The concept of EHRs and the shift to health IT is so immense and important to that it may just be too difficult--and too early--to reach consensus. It's like the Indian parable of the blind men touching the elephant: They are in complete disagreement as to what they're touching. The man touching the tail thinks the elephant's a rope, while the one touching the ear thinks it's a fan.

Perhaps instead of looking at segments of the EHR--the cost, the usability, the patient care--we should be looking at an EHR as a whole, the sum of its parts. Only then is a more complete picture likely to emerge.

EHRs are still in the embryonic stages of adoption. Until we can get our hands completely around that elephant, we need to work together to determine what we've got. - Marla