Federal regulators have listened to physicians' complaints about health IT burdens and they have some solutions.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released Friday a final version of an overarching strategy to reduce clinician burden revolving around entering information into the electronic health records (EHRs), meeting regulatory requirements and improving EHR ease of use.
The overall goal is to improve patient care by enabling physicians to spend more time focused on them instead of their keyboards, HHS officials said.
"Physicians and other healthcare providers have long identified regulatory and administrative burdens as a key contributor to the many challenges they face. They also note these burdens weigh down the overall healthcare delivery system as well. Clinicians have pointed to an ever-increasing and poorly coordinated set of requirements they must meet to deliver and receive payment for patient care," senior officials with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) wrote in a blog post Friday.
The clinical community frequently links the increased burden of meeting these requirements with the tasks and use of health IT, such as EHRs, Andrew Gettinger, chief clinical officer for ONC, and Thomas Mason, ONC's chief medical officer, wrote.
The report targets burdens tied to regulatory and administrative requirements that the federal government can directly impact through the rule-making process.
When looking at the steps HHS could take to mitigate EHR-related burden for healthcare providers, ONC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) focused on strategies that are achievable within the near to medium term, roughly a three- to five-year window, according to the report.
And HHS is looking at strategies it can implement through existing or easily expanded authority.
EHR burdens have been a near-constant complaint from physicians that see the technology as an impediment to their relationship with patients. Numerous studies have documented the time suck of the technology.
The finalized strategy, required under the 21st Century Cures Act, reflects feedback from industry stakeholders and healthcare groups, including 200 comments submitted to the draft strategy, HHS said.
In several recommendations, the agency vowed to continue its work stripping down regulations and working with the industry to find solutions to growing problems.
CMS already has taken some steps to reduce administrative burden such as changes to the more-than-two-decades-old E/M documentation and coding framework that clinicians use to bill Medicare for common office visits.
HHS also wants to see health IT vendors doing more to improve technology usability. EHR vendors need to work with clinicians when designing systems or new features and should consult with experts in user-centered design during development, HHS officials said.
Specifically, EHR vendors should take the lead in developing health IT-specific user interface best practices and should collaborate to develop a shared repository of EHR usability practices.
This collaboration would help provide better consistency with user interface best practices while still enabling EHRs to compete with each other, HHS said in the report.
HHS also wants an EHR vendor's user-centered design process to be highlighted on the ONC Certified Health IT Product List so potential EHR customers can see the efforts that went into the products they are considering acquiring.
"A shift from check-box interface elements to intelligent features that extract needed data from routine clinical workflows would provide a substantial reduction in usability-related clinician burdens," HHS officials wrote in the report.
HHS' recommendations represent the "best next steps" to address the growing problem of clinician burden related to their use of health IT and EHRs, ONC chief Donald Rucker, M.D., said in the report.
As part of its ongoing strategy, ONC plans to work to enable further automation in healthcare, with a focus on prior authorization and quality reporting.
"Through this HHS strategy, we look forward to advancing the premise of how to accurately model and support the clinical cognitive process in the EHR—a shift away from a strictly linear, logic-based model to a more sophisticated design that supports the complex pattern recognition inherent in the diagnostic and treatment process," Rucker said in the report.
"We envision a time when clinicians will use the medical record not as an encounter-based document to support billing, but rather as a tool to fulfill its original intention: supporting the best possible care for the patient."