Physicians say EHRs are a net negative for patients

The benefits that electronic health record systems provide patients in the form of easy access to information comes at a cost to the doctor-patient relationship, according to a new study.

In general, doctors find EHRs a net negative in their interactions with patients, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of Innovation in Health Informatics. The authors, including Rebekah Gardner, M.D., of Brown University, undertook a qualitative assessment of physician comments responding to the 2014 Rhode Island Health Information Technology Survey, looking specifically at attitudes toward EHRs in the context of daily practice.

The study found that physicians cited similar negative impacts on their relationship with patients, but the prominence of those impacts changed based upon setting. Those based in hospitals saw the administrative burden of data entry in the EHR stealing time they could otherwise have spent with patients, while physicians working out of offices tended to suggest the EHRs had a direct effect on their interactions with patients.

The increasing administrative burden on physicians associated with EHRs has received attention as a factor in physician burnout, leading to questions over whether the technology creates as many safety concerns as it solves.

RELATED: Are EHRs a patient safety necessity or a barrier to care?

In the study, authors noted comments describing the use of EHRs during patient visits as a distraction or, worse, as a depersonalizing element.

Some physicians surveyed saw little to no negative impact on their patient interactions, while others pointed out the benefits EHRs yield in terms of physician-to-physician communication, which can, in turn, improve interactions with patients. Nevertheless, “although hospital-based physicians report benefits ranging from better information access to improved patient education and communication, unintended negative consequences are more frequent themes,” per the study.

The authors suggest that improvements to EHRs and alterations to physician workflows to compensate for the depersonalizing effect of the technology could ultimately make for better physician engagement and an improved patient experience.