When physicians encounter a problem or inefficiency with their EHR system, they often use a workaround to get through the issue and on with their work.
This is a fairly common occurrence in most practices; after all, doctors, nurses, and support staff stay constantly busy, for the most part. They don’t have the time that’s often required to deal with a technical issue properly. More often, however, a workaround occurs because the EHR system hasn’t been designed to accommodate the unique needs of a clinic or practice. For example, physicians might not be able to find data, or a particular process might be so complex that it’s just faster and easier to use a paper form.
Workarounds are something that all of involved in the healthcare industry are familiar with. However, a study released in mid-March found that the problem of workarounds might be putting patient safety at risk.
The study, titled, “Paper- and Computer-based Workarounds to Electronic Health Record Use at Three Benchmark Institutions,” found that workarounds are fairly common in most healthcare institutions. Researchers wanted to see how doctors and support staff were using, and circumventing, their EHR systems. They collected data at 11 primary care outpatient clinics across three healthcare institutions. They interviewed 120 staff members, and observed 118 patients.
So what did they find? Well, they discovered that although each of the three institutions were all using different EHR systems, all the staff they observed used workarounds in the same type of categories. The three most common reasons for a workaround was memory, awareness, and efficiency. However, they also found that some physicians had to use a workaround because there was “no direct path,” or, put simply, there was just no way for them to perform a particular task through the EHR. It wasn’t an option in the system.
What all this means is that many EHR systems are still not meeting the needs of healthcare institutions and practices. When doctors and support staff have to use a workaround, either by leaving themselves a paper reminder or overriding a particular alert function, they could be putting patient safety at risk.
In the end, all this goes to show that EHR still has a ways to go before this technology is meeting 100% of the needs of physicians and larger healthcare institutions. Sadly, workarounds are still necessary in many cases in order for workflow efficiency ..but these workarounds might come at a cost to patient safety over time.
If you’re a physician or support staff, have you every used a workaround in your EHR system? If so, what did you have to do?