Is EMR Use Unfair To Patients?

Posted on April 24, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

As we all know, clinicians have good reasons to be aggravated with their EMRs. While the list of grievances is long — and legitimate — perhaps the biggest complaint is loss of control. I have to say that I sympathize; if someone forced me to adopt awkward digital tools to do my work I would go nuts.

We seldom discuss, however, the possibility that these systems impose an unfair burden on patients as well. But that’s the argument one physician makes in a recent op-ed for the American Council on Science and Health.

The author, Jamie Wells, MD, calls the use of EMRs “an ethical disaster,” and suggests that forced implementation of EMRs may violate the basic tenets of bioethics.

Some of the arguments Dr. Wells makes apply exclusively to physicians. For one thing, she contends that penalizing doctors who don’t adapt successfully to EMR use is unfair. She also suggests that EMRs create needless challenges that can erode physicians’ ability to deliver quality care, add significant time to a physician’s workday and force doctors to participate in related continuing education whether or not they want to do so.

Unlike many essays critiquing this topic, Wells also contends that patients are harmed by EMR use.

For example, Wells argues that since patients are never asked whether they want physicians to use EMRs, they never get the chance to consider the risks and benefits associated with EHR data use in developing care plans. Also, they are never given a chance to weigh in on whether they are comfortable having less face time with their physicians, she notes.

In addition, she says that since EMRs prompt physicians to ask questions not relevant to that patient’s care, adding extra steps to the process, they create unfair delays in a patient’s getting relief from pain and suffering.

What’s more, she argues that since EMR systems typically aren’t interoperable, they create inconveniences which can ultimately interfere with the patient’s ability to choose a provider.

Folks, you don’t have to convince me that EMR implementations can unfairly rattle patients and caregivers. As I noted in a previous essay, my mother recently went to a terrifying experience when the hospital where my brother was being cared for went through an EMR implementation during the crucial point in his care. She was rightfully concerned that staff might be more concerned with adapting to the EMR and somewhat less focused on her extremely fragile son’s care.

As I noted in the linked article above. I believe that health executives should spend more time considering potentially negative effects of their health IT initiatives on patients. Maybe these execs will have to have a sick relative at the hospital during a rollout before they’ll make the effort.