Six Sigma Your EMR (Electronic Medical Records)

n January of this year, the Obama Administration put out an announcement that it will begin working on upgrading the Electronic Medical Record incentive program. When Obamacare pushed EMR’s into facilities with deadlines for incentive returns, physicians reluctantly obliged and began electronically producing medical records. A survey conducted by The American Medical Association and American EHR Partners found that only 34% of those physicians surveyed were happy with their EMR system. We are in 2016, why would anyone still want to write anything on paper!? The catch: Another study by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that physicians are now spending an astonishing 44% of their time sitting at a computer pointing and clicking in order to enter patient data into their EMR. Here lies the problem.

Is there a way to reduce this monotonous task for physicians so they can actually focus on their patient? There are obvious benefits to the EMR system and digitizing medical records, but the question is how can we streamline this into a repeatable, less redundant process? I decided to do some research of my own, so I interviewed Dr. Jodi Southam, a EMR Lead and Orthopedic Surgeon. In a 9 hour clinic day, Dr. Southam spends about 6 hours a day just focusing on her patients, and 3 hours a day inputting information into her EMR. The benefits she sees from her EMR system include increased communication as well as easy access to charting and other records. She does believe that EMR usage has the potential to be faster than dictating, in most circumstances. The only caveat is that there is an initial investment of ones time that is required in order to reach that point of efficiency. In many of the articles written about the effects of EMR systems on physicians, the biggest complaint is that the process of information being input into the system in monotonous and often times very cumbersome. When asked about this issue Dr. Southam responded, “When there are redundancies in the program, we do what we can to fix it. For example, when putting in a case request we are asked to put in a diagnosis. Later on in the process, we are asked again to put in this same (diagnosis) information. By placing a request with our EMR system, the redundancy was able to be modified.” This led me to the conclusion that there is a high possibility that many EMR systems are not be utilized to their full potential; I dug deeper.

What exactly is customizable in an EMR system? Almost everything. Dr. Southam explained that physicians are able to create separate templates based on the progress of the patient called “progress notes,” which can include things like operative notes, procedures, instructions, discharges, etc. Inside of these templates they can also create smart lists for specific keywords and phrases. Essentially these are all shortcuts in the system that may take up time initially, but free up the physicians time in the future. My suggestion to those facilities struggling to reduce EMR time for their physicians, is to really invest in customizing the system and also bringing in a champion that can help facilitate and teach others how to use the EMR system more effectively and efficiently. Facilities apply six sigma to every other process in the hospital, why not your EMR too?

Butler, David. “Taking Lean to the Screen: Removing Waste from the Electronic Health Record.” Healthcare IT News. N.p., 08 Aug. 2016. Web. 10 Aug. 2016.

Denning, Steve. “Why Is Your Doctor Typing? Electronic Medical Records Run Amok.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2016.

Westgate, Aubrey. “Ten Ways to Use Your EHR More Efficiently.” Physicians Practice: America’s Practice Management Resource. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2016.