EHRs May Not Deliver All That They Promise

The hype surrounding electronic health records (EHRs) has been palpable throughout the health care industry since President Obama announced his goal of implementing them for every American by 2014. Although the goal of large-scale EHR adoption is to streamline patient care, recent research published in

Milbank Quarterly

(December 14, 2009) suggests that it can do quite the opposite in many cases.

Researchers from the University College of London (UCL) based the study on findings from hundreds of existing studies on EHRs from around the world, finding “fundamental and often overlooked tension in the design and implementation of EHRs.”

According to the study results, between 50- and 80% of electronic health record projects are unsuccessful; and the larger the project, the higher its likelihood of failure. The researchers found that smaller, more local EHR systems seem to provide greater efficiency and effectiveness than their larger counterparts.

In addition, although secondary work can become more efficient with the help of EHRs, primary clinical work can become less efficient once EHRs have been implemented. The researchers pointed out that paper actually offers more of the needed flexibility for many areas of clinical work than what is provided by available EHR technology.

Finally, the results showed that seamless integration of varying EHR systems is a near impossibility, due to the human input that will likely always be required.

“Our results provide no simple solutions to the problem of failed electronic patient records projects, nor do they support an anti-technology policy of returning to paper,” said lead author and professor Trish Greenhalgh, of UCL’s Department of Open Learning. “Rather, they suggest it is time for researchers and policymakers to move beyond simplistic, technology-push models and consider how to capture the messiness and unpredictability of the real world.”

For other articles in this issue, see:

Americans’ Perceptions off When it Comes to Coughs

Drinking Coffee and Tea May Cut Diabetes Risk

Memphis Pharmacy May Close After 4 Burglaries