Obstetrician will no longer be able to deliver babies after refusing electronic records training

Telemedicine doctor
A 75-year-old obstetrician can no longer deliver babies because he doesn't want to learn how to use a medical center's new EHR system. (shironosov/Getty)

Computers have spelled the end of delivering babies for an Illinois obstetrician.

Jeffrey B. Johnson, M.D., 75, has declined to participate in mandatory training to learn how to use the new electronic medical record system at St. Alexius Medical Center located in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, a Northwest suburb of Chicago. 

That means he won’t be able to continue to deliver babies at the medical center after a more than 50-year career, according to a column in the Daily Herald.

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"I know we're not going to win," Johnson told the newspaper about how his refusal to get up to speed on the hospital's new computer system has left him unable to continue to work at the medical center.

Johnson delivered his first baby in 1965 and delivered his last at the hospital last month, the newspaper said. In all those years, he estimates he has delivered more than 14,000 babies, more than any other obstetrician in the region.

"Dr. Johnson has had a long and distinguished career with Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center, and we greatly appreciate everything he has done for our patients, their families and our community," Len Wilk, president and CEO of the medical center, told the newspaper.

However, the hospital is requiring all its practitioners to receive training in the use of its recently implemented electronic medical record (EMR) system for ordering and documenting clinical care, Wilk said. The new EMR is part of a systemwide initiative to ensure that patient records are readily accessible and shared on a common platform across all the system’s facilities, he said, a technology that has been shown to reduce medical errors and increase quality and safety.

Johnson will continue to see patients in his private practice. He can refer pregnant patients to either his son, Peter Johnson, M.D., or his younger brother, Alan Johnson, M.D., the newspaper said. Jeffrey Johnson said his patients will be in good hands, but his loyal patients will miss him.

Johnson has had a long affiliation with St. Alexius. He helped write the bylaws when the hospital opened in 1979 and served as chairman of the OB/GYN department. He opened his own practice six years later.

"I think it's the most important job in medicine, and I love it," Johnson said. "I just can't practice anymore at our hospital because I don't know how to use the computer efficiently."

Add Johnson’s story to the clinicians and independent practices reluctant to adopt EHR use to keep up with an increasingly digitized healthcare system.

Last year, 85-year-old New Hampshire doctor Anna Konopka, M.D., was forced out of practice. A judge denied her request in November to reinstate her medical license, which Konopka said she surrendered partly due to her inability to use a computer. Without the technology, she could not comply with the use of the state’s prescription drug monitoring program.

Electronic health records have been cited as a factor in the growing problem of physician burnout. A study last year that found burnout has led 1 in 5 doctors to plan to reduce their clinical hours and cited administrative fatigue stemming from bureaucratic pressure, as well as dissatisfaction with EHR technology, as the problem's primary contributing factors.

One practice even got rid of its EHR. The Illinois Pain Institute did what many physicians only dream of. The practice, which has multiple locations in four Illinois counties, ditched its EHR and went back to paper records.