EHR: Got a few minutes?

Before we get started…I am on the plane yesterday, sitting in a middle seat.  An attractive woman fights her way down the aisle and sits next to me.  Five minutes later it happens again.  I felt like I had just won the USAir lottery.  The man who sits directly in front of me looks like the Taliban’s Mullah Omar, including the black turban.  Across the aisle is a screaming four-year-old.  For a second, I thought about executing a Jet-Blue exit strategy and deploying the emergency exit slide.

At a business dinner last night, we got into a conversation about driving habits.  The young woman across from me was explaining an incident for which she was pulled over for driving 94 miles an hour in her convertible Mercedes.  When the police officer asked her why she was driving so fast she told the officer she was trying to dry her hair.

Let’s roll back a few hours.  Got the time?

I am sitting at the airport holding my two two-dollar bottles of water scanning my options from among the array of shops.  Fast food.  The guy sitting across from me looked like he was eating Jell-O made from kelp.

Sundries.   Clothing, MSNBC—when did they get into retail?  Shoes, laptop devices, every possible cell phone accessory.  A nifty collection of watches at some kiosk.

A few years back I bought a Polar watch to help me track my running.  It measures heart rate, altitude, temperature, distance, rate, laps, and tracks and calculates my average pace.  What do I use it for when I run—the time—never took the time to learn how to use the other functions?

I also have a few antique watches—the kind you have to wind.  The only thing they do is keep time.  Then there is my Tag Heuer—a name I am not able to pronounce.  It is waterproof down to 300 meters.  I quit diving four years before I even found the watch—but it seems to work well in the shower.  It appears to have more Jewels in the back than the crown of a dictator from a third-world country.

The next time you are in a meeting, or sitting across from someone, look at their watch and see if you can read the time.  You may be able to estimate how much they paid for it by how much exposure it has on their wrist.  Some watches look like they have enough gadgetry to have been a prop in a Bond movie.  Altimeter, lunar phases, time zones in countries to which they have never traveled.  The face of the watch is so decked-out with features and functions that have nothing to do with keeping time that you may as well settle for knowing the moon is waxing.

My Polar watch is an allegory for EHRs that are failing and underperforming.  Lots of features, very little utility.  EHR implementations that do well seem to be those designed to go shallow on functionality and cut a wide swath utility.  Those that go deep into the functionality and narrow on utility are gathering dust.

Is there any good news?  Sure—when you turn on the computer monitor, you’ll notice a little digital clock in the lower right corner.  You may have wasted $200 million on the EHR, but you’ll always know the right time.

Kind Regards,


Paul M. Roemer
Managing Partner, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942

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