One of his pet peeves, says rheumatologist Tim Howard, DO, is the lack of compatibility among electronic health record (EHR) systems. Turns out, he’s not alone.
According to a report this month in Medical Care, roughly half of physicians who use EHRs don’t receive the patient information they need for coordinated care. The study, led by Chun-Ju Hsiao, PhD, MHS, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, also showed only 33% of physicians actually use their EHR to share patient information electronically. Nearly 40% use an EHR, but don’t share patient data electronically.
“It all comes down to the CCD, the continuing care document,” says Dr. Howard, who runs a solo practice in Quakertown, Pa. “It’s the whole principle ‘meaningful use’ was based on. This document should be uniform throughout any EHR. It should be easily compatible … and it is not.”
Dr. Howard, who leads Bucks-Mont Rheumatology’s staff of three in an area with few rheumatology practices, adds, “They are non-functional, in terms of compatibility between different EHR systems.”
Even though he updated his EHR technology two years ago, Dr. Howard’s staff still use workarounds to exchange patient information.
“It’s extremely time consuming. It usually involves a lot of scanning and printing and faxing documents,” he says. “The heart of the matter is that the EHR companies that make this software purposely make them proprietary. There is no cross-compatibility—sort of like Apple devices and Android devices—because they make them that way. It’s a business decision, and there is no incentive right [now] for EHR vendors to make systems compatible.”
In spite of technological innovation, Dr. Howard and his staff still encounter myriad barriers. He suspects it’s not just his practice, either, and not just rheumatologists facing these challenges.
“Oftentimes, you have EHR A, a rheumatology practice, that can’t talk to EHR B, a family practice down the road,” he explains. “Patient documentation should be transmitted in a way that provides continuity of care, with medical information updated in real time, sent electronically. It should be plug and play, and it’s not.” (posted 2/20/15)
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.