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Despite Benefits, Switching EHRs Comes at High Cost

LEAWOOD, KS — When trying to decide whether to migrate from a current electronic health record (EHR) to a different one, some practices might be better off following the adage, “Grow where you are planted.”

The changeover rarely is an unmitigated success, according to the latest survey from the journal Family Practice Management, published by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“Over the last several years, electronic health record (EHR) systems have become pervasive,” according to the report authored by Kenneth G. Adler, MD, the journal’s medical editor who practices in Tucson, AZ, and Robert Edsall, former editor-in-chief of the publication who now works as a freelance medical writer and editor based in Kansas City, MO. “Numerous surveys, including our prior surveys, have shown that overall physician satisfaction with EHRs is relatively low. Increasingly, physicians are changing EHRs or at least wondering if there are better EHRs out there.”

The authors said they sought to answer three questions:

  • What key factors are driving practices to change EHRs?
  • What main challenges are they encountering along the way?
  • Does changing EHRs lead to improved EHR performance and user satisfaction?

Family physicians were invited to respond to the survey, which was published in Family Practice Management and data was collected from mid-July through September 2014.

After exclusions for failing to meet participation criteria or answering all questions, 305 respondents were left — about half in practices up to nine physicians and the other half in practices of 10 or more.

Survey responses involved 41 EHR systems in current use, and 73 in previous use.

Respondents said the primary reasons for changing EHR systems included a need for additional functionality, an effort to meet meaningful use requirements, an attempt to increase usability and improving training and support.

Most, 59%, of the respondents expressed agreement or strong agreement that switching to a new system had improved functionality and 57% indicated that, because of the change, their practice now was better able to meet meaningful use requirements.

Yet only 43% of respondents said they were pleased with the change to a different EHR system, although the physicians who were directly involved in the decision to change EHR systems expressed more satisfaction than those who did not play a part in the decision.

In addition, 81% of those answering the survey said they found changing an electronic medical record system to be challenging because of issues such as productivity loss, data loss and data migration problems.

While conceding that changing EHR systems might be necessary in some situations, authors of the report emphasize that "if you just want to change because you don't like using your current EHR or consider it a drag on your productivity, the grass may not be greener on the other side."