Ever since computers became commonplace in our work, home and school environments, we have heard talk about becoming a paperless society. While this is probably unlikely, in many industries greater use of computers to complete everyday tasks has been widely embraced. Not so in the health care world. Although HIPAA concerns may be an issue, that doesn’t seem to be the primary source of healthcare professionals’ reluctance to more widely embrace the use of electronic health records (EHR).

When used effectively, EHRs can save doctors and nurses time while improving patient care. But many lack an understanding of how to use EHRs properly or meaningfully. A press release issued in 2009 by the Harvard School of Public Health talked about a survey that revealed that although many US hospitals added cost to their list of reasons for opting against using EHRs, physician resistance was at the top. Without cooperation from physicians, EHRs stand little or no chance of receiving adoption throughout the US health care industry.

According to Shahid Shah, author of The Healthcare IT Guy blog, usability isn’t what causes people to reject the use of EHRs. The problem, he says, is that not everyone who pays for, benefits from or uses EHRs receives equal value. Another issue that seems to have slowed adoption of EHRs is that some want EHR screens to be simpler.

Everyone has a different learning curve, but “dumbing down” EHR software to accommodate those who struggle will only diminish its overall effectiveness. In an effort to help increase the adoption of EHRs in the US, Cisco teamed up with the Oregon Community Health Information Network to create the Cisco Health Path, an online course that teaches doctors and nurses, in both hospitals and private practices, how to use EHRs. And there are no cookie-cutter EHR systems. Each EHR system has to be tailored to suit the environment in which it will be used. A private practice, naturally, won’t need as many features as a large medical center or hospital.

One of the biggest barriers to adoption of EHRs seems to be old habits. People are used to using paper forms and structured data entry screens. So, when a system comes along that demands that they do away with such things as much as possible, it meets resistance. Data entry is not where it’s at, according to Shah. Instead, he suggests an integrated system that is based less on creating new patient files and more on aggregating information from other sources within the hospital, clinic or health system. This method would eliminate certain data entry screens and speed up the patient-information gathering process.

The world of information technology will continue to evolve and move forward, with or without health care professionals. But the US government’s signing into law of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in February 2009 makes it clear that it’s important for health care professionals to let go of their misgivings about EHRs and start adopting them more widely … for the sake of better patient outcomes if nothing else.

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