EMR Doctor's Blog: When does efficiency in documentation become misguided and counterproductive?

We have all seen medical records from an emergency department (my apologies to the blissful ignorant out there — you don’t want to know if you don’t already). Much like sausage, they come out pretty much all ground up, full of information that at first glance can be difficult to figure out. If you find yourself asking questions such as, “Where is the part about why the patient came in and what the doctor thought about their case?” then you just might have one of these notes. They’re actually one of my favorite types of “old medical records” to sift through for the purposes of “reviewing and summarizing”. This is because when you’re dealing with gobbledygook, well, there’s not much to summarize. It’s easy to flip through forty or fifty pages in no time and say that you have honestly reviewed and summarized the old records, which are full of near meaninglessness that doesn’t impact my decisions in the patient’s care much, if at all.

The ER notes (and many primary doctor visit notes nowadays) result from having programmers who don’t appear to understand the appeal of a well-written note in facilitating basic communication. Computer programmers who get their hands on the list of required information that must be put into a note to pass by insurance standards don’t always design good products. Unfortunately, this really only highlights the insanity of criteria for medical documentation to gain the golden eggs of insurance company reimbursements for providing medical services. I’ll save those crazy criteria for some other day. Nonetheless, the tax man and the gobbledygook cometh. If only they had the guidance of a practicing physician in the design process!

Unfortunately, as the gold rush for economic stimulus dollars ramps up, poorly designed systems will most assuredly continue to be thrown onto the market. I recommend to anyone considering incorporating an EHR system into your practice that you actually consider and request to review a sample of the output format. If it looks like something that would embarrass you to show your former mentors from the residency or fellowship program in which you trained, then I would posit that this is probably not fit for medical documentation. If no one wants to read what you wrote, then is it really worth doing? And please don’t be fooled into thinking that spending more money is the key to getting a better product. Ask the EHR vendors to put their money where their mouth is.

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC, as a solo practice in 2009.