CSA News

CSA Physician Anesthesiologists to Debate Whether EHRs Improve Safety

Oct 14, 2014

One sure way to get a group of health care professionals talking is to bring up electronic health records (EHR), so Tuesday’s debate “Electronic Health Records Improve Patient Safety - Or Do They?” should be of interest to everyone at the ANESTHESIOLOGY 2014 annual meeting.

The debate will pit Christine A. Doyle, M.D., taking the position against EHRs improving safety, with James Moore, M.D., who will argue that they do improve safety. The debate takes place from 3-4:30 p.m. Tuesday in room 203-205. Dr. Doyle is President and Partner of Coast Anesthesia Medical Group, San Jose, California, and Dr. Moore is Clinical Professor of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, and Medical Director of the Preoperative Evaluation and Planning Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“The real key is to understand that the electronic health record in whatever format it takes is a tool, like a pencil or a typewriter or a hammer is a tool,” Dr. Doyle said. “People have tended to focus on the fact it is an electronic record instead of the fact it is a clinical record. It is a tool to help us do clinical work. It is not a billing tool and it’s not for quality management, either. Part of why they do not improve patient safety is that they were not designed to do that.”

Dr. Moore, though, sees that tool improving care even if it only provides more accurate, legible records when compared to hand-written records.

“My experience is that when EHRs are used well, there is reason to think that it can actually be something that allows anesthesiologists to provide better care than when they are just documenting on paper,” he said. “There are optimal ways to use electronic records systems. One of the ways is to make sure the output for the final record has the critical information easily viewable in a way that makes sense.”

The benefits of well-designed EHRs are even greater, though, Dr. Moore said.

“First, they minimize the distraction of patient care during the busy, complex, rapidly changing environment of anesthesia care, especially in the operating room,” he said of EHRs. “Second, a well-designed EHR anesthesia information management system can provide records from a previous anesthetic that informs an anesthesiologist well for an upcoming anesthetic to make good decisions and manage patients optimally in ways that on paper are hard to achieve.”

A major problem with EHRs, Dr. Doyle said, is that no standards have been established.

“At no point in any of the meaningful use discussions or implementation, until the last six months, was there what I think should have been the appropriate focus on interoperability or plug-and-play,” she said. “We kind of put the cart before horse when we did not develop any standards up front. Standards can be as simple as how do you represent height and weight - it is lack of consistency in nomenclature that is a problem.”