Evaluating EHRs: Cost, frustration temper advantages of electronic health record systems

November 1, 2009

With the Obama administration's 2014 goal for national electronic medical record (EMR) adoption looming, dermatologists who have taken the plunge say the systems carry hefty costs and require steep learning curves.

Key Points

EDITOR'S NOTE: As the 2014 deadline for implementing electronic health records approaches, more dermatologists are investigating and acquiring such systems. In this issue, Dermatology Times looks at their advantages - and potential drawbacks. We also discuss how the American Academy of Dermatology is creating specialty-specific certification criteria (see page 22), and we offer experts' tips on how to find the best system for your practice.

Still, most agree that the advantages of well-designed EMR and electronic health record (EHR) systems outweigh their disadvantages. And although many use the terms EMR and EHR interchangeably, EMRs automate medical practices internally, and EHRs link to other systems, says Elizabeth W. Woodcock, a practice management author and "Business Consult" columnist for Dermatology Times.

"My patients have more time with me. I don't have that pressure feeling" of having to chart furiously between appointments, he says. "I'm engaging my mind in what I've been trained to do - examine, diagnose and treat the patient."

"The initial benefit is eliminating the need for tremendous amounts of paper - no more chart room, no more pulling and refiling charts," says Dr. Siegel, whose three-physician practice implemented EHRs more than four years ago.

Sharing records

Congress is likely to penalize providers who aren't using EHR by 2014, cutting back Medicaid and Medicare payments, according to the AP.

Still, implementation efforts are lagging; most surveys say that only 15 percent to 20 percent of physicians nationally use EMRs, according to Ms. Woodcock.

And while dermatologists say EMR/EHRs can improve quality of care, they acknowledge there are drawbacks.