The federal mandate that doctors adopt electronic health records was included as part of the American Recovery and Investment Act — more colloquially known as the 2009 stimulus package.
President Obama boasted that the program would “cut waste, eliminate red tape, and reduce the need to repeat expensive medical tests.” The idea was that a mass upgrade of the nation’s health IT would facilitate the sharing of information among physicians and hospitals — and ultimately lead to more accurate diagnoses and more effective and efficient treatment.
The information technology revolution had transformed so many other parts of the American economy. Why couldn’t it do the same for health care?
The government’s carrots and sticks worked. From 2009 to 2015, the share of hospitals using a basic electronic health records system increased from 12 percent to 84 percent.
The programs on the market are often clunky, time-consuming, and insensitive to the complexities of modern medicine. Physicians, who already face suffocating administrative burdens, are logging ever-increasing amounts of data that have little clinical relevance. Time with patients is disrupted by an endless flood of alerts and messages.
Two-thirds of doctors say electronic records degrade their patient interactions, according to a survey from the Physicians Foundation. More than half of physicians report that the records reduce efficiency; more than a third say they diminish the quality of care.
Screen time has replaced face time. Only one-fourth of the average doctor’s day is spent face-to-face with patients. Half is devoted to electronic health records and other administrative tasks, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The shortage could grow even worse if doctors react to the burdens federal pressures have foisted upon them by leaving the profession. The Physicians Foundation found that roughly eight in 10 doctors had reported feelings of burnout. Nearly half of doctors are looking to change career paths.
Rolling back the federal electronic health records mandate won’t stop doctors and hospitals from incorporating health information technology into their practices and facilities. Instead, it will allow them — not the government — to decide how to balance patient care and technology use. In theory, clinicians will use technology to improve their ability to deliver high-quality patient care — rather than using technology simply to satisfy the government.
Doctors choose their profession because they want to heal people, not fill out paperwork. It’s time for the government to get out of the way and let physicians actually practice medicine.