EMR in the Exam Room: What Patients Really Think

Making the switch from paper documentation to an electronic medical record (EMR) is a big change. And as with any major shift from the norm, the prospect of implementing an EMR in your practice probably comes with a few concerns—about how it will impact you, your staff, and the overall health of your business. But while there’s plenty of information out there to help alleviate skepticism about the value of EMR from the provider standpoint, data demonstrating a link between electronic documentation and improved patient experience is a bit more elusive. So, to get a better idea of how patients feel about electronic records, The Profitable Practice—a publication of Software Advice—conducted a survey of 4,500 US patients to see whether a doctor’s use of electronic documentation technology plays a significant role in the quality of the patient’s experience. Here’s a breakdown of what the study uncovered:

1. Patients are not nearly as bothered by your use of electronic note-taking devices as you think they are. Sure, there are isolated examples of patients who feel a tad put-off by the presence of EMR in a medical setting—perhaps you’ve even come across one or two in your own research—but their qualms with technology are far removed from the general consensus (and, quite possibly, have less to do with the technology itself than the person who is using it). In fact, in this study, more than 80% of those surveyed said it would not bother them if, during an office exam, their doctor typed on a desktop computer, a laptop computer, or a tablet. Interestingly, of those three devices, patients expressed the least discontent over tablets.

2. By comparison, patients are much more bothered by medical scribes and audio recording devices. According to the study, people are about two times more likely to express concern over the use of scribes—patient data “middlemen” who enter notes into an electronic documentation system while the clinician conducts the exam—than doctors simply entering the information themselves. But among all of the documentation methods the survey presented, the one that irked repondants the most was audio recording. More than a third of those surveyed said it would bother them if a doctor used an audio recorder during an exam to aid with documentation. Furthermore, more respondents selected “very bothersome” for audio recording than any other method of documentation.

3. Patients actually prefer their medical providers to document electronically rather than on paper. Well, to be more accurate, the majority of patients are decidedly apathetic on the EMR-versus-paper issue, with a whopping 47% saying they have “absolutely no preference” when it comes to their doctor’s point-of-care charting method. But when surveyors eliminated the “no preference” option and asked respondents to choose one of two documentation preferences (paper or electronic) and one of two levels of preference (strongly prefer or somewhat prefer), 77% indicated that they either somewhat or strongly prefer electronic charting over paper charting during an exam, with 44% of those respondents falling into the “strongly prefer electronic” category.

4. Customer service plays a much more significant role in patient satisfaction than does the clinician’s documentation method. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of patients chalked negative doctor visit experiences up to either long wait times (35%) or unfriendly staff (25%). Coming in at a close third was short visit duration, with 24% of the vote. Together, those factors account for 84% of patient dissatisfaction (at least among participants in this study). What does that mean for your practice? Well, if your patient satisfaction rate is suffering, it’s probably not because you’re using an iPad during your therapy sessions. Before you ditch your EMR—or table your plans to implement one in your clinic—step back and take a look at your operational processes and the demeanor of your staff. Are your patients treated with kindness and respect from the moment they walk through your door? Have you optimized your front office processes to ensure maximum efficiency? If you answered “no” to either question, an EMR could actually help: as writer Erica Cohen points out in this article, “electronic documentation is a huge time-saver for patients (and office staff) because they no longer need to manually complete paperwork and forms at every visit. Rather, if the provider uses an electronic system, patients need only to complete their forms at the initial visit.” Cohen also cites a study revealing that “73% of patients whose current physician keeps electronic records say that EMRs have a very or somewhat positive impact on the overall quality of the health care services they receive.”

Do you agree with the results of this study? Do you think EMR has the potential to enhance a patient’s treatment experience? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.