EHRs prove less useful than hoped
by jerry on May 03, 2020
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, Congress designated $36 billion to encourage doctors to upgrade their medical records systems to be electronic (known as electronic health records, or EHRs for short). The extra funds indeed encouraged many providers to adopt EHRs, and one of the aspirations was that researchers would be able to use information from various different clinics and hospitals to make better progress. In order for an EHR to be certified as eligible for the customer to receive funding, the EHR had to undergo a certification process which included interoperability requirements such that data from one system could be meaningfully interpreted by other compatible systems (e.g. weight recorded in one system as structured data would be similarly interpreted as structured data in another system). Kaiser Health News reported that such dreams of interoperability for the sake of science has proven elusive during this pandemic.
I imagine that part of the problem is that entering structured data (so that it can be meaningfully queried later on) is likely very tedious for providers. Doctors and others had been under a lot of time pressure to see a certain number of patients a day, and many likely resorted to non-structured data (e.g. textual notes). Given the daily pressures of seeing enough patients and documenting the encounters (which many doctors have not enjoyed) and weighing that cost against an abstract societal benefit of being able to make use of that data, it is not surprising that many doctors would revert to what is easier.