Electronic health-record systems can be a boon and a bane to physician-patient communications, according to a new report by the Center for Studying Health System Change, Washington, with support from the Commonwealth Fund, New York.
On the positive side, the study found that an EHR helps improve physician-patient interaction because it provides quicker access to patient information, affording physicians time to spend with patients that they might otherwise lose hunting for information through paper records that are less organized.
On the other hand, for some physicians, simply using an EHR can pose a distraction. It may also lead physicians to rely on EHRs for information gathering “at the expense of real-time communication with patients and other clinicians,” according to a news release.
“Electronic medical records are a double-edged sword when it comes to communication with patients and other clinicians,” said study co-author Ann O'Malley, a physician and researcher with the center, in the release.
According to O'Malley, vendors also need to keep refining their systems to make them less distracting to physicians.
In a shout out to the folks running the multibillion-dollar federal EHR subsidy program, O'Malley suggests policymakers “should consider incorporating communication-skills training for medical trainees and clinicians” using EHRs.
The study, “Electronic Medical Records and Communication with Patients and Other Clinicians: Are We Talking Less?” is based on 60 interviews with physicians and staffers at 26 small and medium-sized physician practices with commercial ambulatory EHRs in place for at least two years.