By Karen Beseth | Watchdog Arena
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Obamacare’s electronic health record mandate would “reduce paperwork and administrative burdens, cut costs, reduce medical errors and most importantly, improve the quality of care.” Now that the law has been implemented, it doesn’t appear that any of those goals have been met, at least not as far as a majority of American physicians are concerned.
SURVEY SAYS: According to a recent survey of doctor’s, Obamacare’s electronic health record mandate is making their jobs more difficult and less productive.
The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act was approved by Congress in 2009, and mandated that all medical providers digitize medical records. The mandate was strengthened by the passage of Obamacare in 2010.
In theory, electronic medical records systems are supposed to streamline patient care by allowing multiple health care providers access at once to patient records. But the reality is that many of the systems were poorly designed, are vulnerable to hacking, are extremely costly and lead to billing errors.
Earlier this month, industry group Medical Economics released the results of a survey of doctors on the functionality and cost of electronic health record (EHR) systems. Despite subsidies from the federal government, physicians reported that the EHR systems were not worth the cost, which includes licensing fees, training, hardware and increases in staffing. Doctors also reported that they have become less productive.
One survey respondent was quite blunt in his assessment:
We used to see 32 patients a day with one tech, and now we struggle to see 24 patients a day with four techs. And we provide worse care.
That respondent is not alone. Forty-five percent said that patient care has gotten worse since implementing EHRs. More than 70 percent of large practices, 66 percent of internal medicine specialists, and 60 percent of family practice physicians would not purchase their current EHR system again if they could do it over. Sixty-seven percent do not like the functionality of their systems, and more than 50 percent say the EHRs are too expensive. A majority of respondents reported financial losses related to EHRs, and 69 percent said that coordination of care with hospitals hasn’t improved.
Dr. Jeffrey Singer provided more insight into the problem in a Wall Street Journal editorial. Singer reports that doctors who fail to comply with the EHR mandate will be penalized by Medicare through cuts in reimbursement rates. He noted that compliance is too costly for many small practices, so hospitals and large health clinics will acquire even more independent medical practices. Practices that are able to incur the high price tag will still pass the costs along to patients, so the cost of medical care will rise for everybody. But the biggest drawback is the impediment to quality care due to the rigidity of the new system:
The EHR system assumes that the patient in front of me is the “average patient.” When I’m in the treatment room, I must fill out a template to demonstrate to the federal government that I made “meaningful use” of the system. This rigidity inhibits my ability to tailor my questions and treatment to my patient’s actual medical needs. It promotes tunnel vision in which physicians become so focused on complying with the EHR work sheet that they surrender a degree of critical thinking and medical investigation.
Singer went on to note another study that found EHRs encourage errors and decrease the quality of care. He cited the “real life example” of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient whose diagnosis was missed the first time he visited a Dallas emergency room. In cases of infectious diseases those sorts of errors put the safety of the entire public in jeopardy.
Unfortunately, the EHR debacle is just one more example of how Obamacare not only fails to deliver on its promises, but actually makes things worse.
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.