EHR’s marmalade-and-toast hypothesis

Les choses son contre nous—things are against us.  EHR is the marmalade-and-toast hypothesis, that the marmalade-side will land on the carpet when the toast falls from the breakfast plate, played out in bits and bytes.  Resistentialism is the belief that inanimate objects have a natural antipathy towards human beings.  If one were to view the marmalade-toast through the glasses of resistentialism one would conclude that the likelihood of the toast laying marmalade-side down increases with the cost of the carpet. So it is with the EHR.  Your expensive EHR is laying marmalade-side down on a very expensive carpet.

EHR has created an air of technostalgia with users yearning for the bygone days when the technology involved a number two pencil and a pad of paper.  Now that you are using your EHR system, do you ever wonder how different the experience of using it would have been if someone had asked for your input about what the EHR should do?  Would merely asking have solved the EHR myopia that was brought about by those who implemented it, implemented it without involving a single systems designer?

That this problem even exists is demonstrated by the fact that to use the EHR required hours of training.  Users sat there like sock puppets listening to the buzzword-bingo put forth by the trainers.  This should have been the clue that none of what they were about to learn was intuitive or self-evident.  The reason they offer EHR training is to explain “This is how you get the system to do what you need it to do,” because without viewing it that way it will not do anything.

The EHR has turned a lot of normally complacent physicians and nurses into stress puppies.  To understand how far amiss the functioning of the EHR is from what the users had hoped it would be all one has to do is observe it being used.  How many doctors and nurses have apologized to a patient during an exam because of something related to the EHR?  “Sorry this is taking so long…If you will just bear with me while I figure out how to do this…When the nurse returns I will get her to show me how to schedule your next appointment.”

If ever there was a time to have employed defensive pessimism, the implementation of EHR was such a time.  Users went into the project skeptimistic, certain it would go badly.  As niche worriers doctors and nurses imagined all the ways that the EHR would under deliver and would make their jobs more difficult, and they watched their stress portfolios rise.  The forgotten task was that nobody mapped out ways to avert the damage.

That this jump-the-shark problem can and should be corrected by something not much larger than a two-pizza team—a team small enough that it can be fed by two pizzas—seems to have escaped the reason of many.

Many are guilty of treating the productivity drop brought on by EHR as a problem with no solution.  If a problem has no solution it is not a problem, it is a fact.  And if it is a fact it is not to be solved, but coped with over time.  There is way too much coping going on.

The EHR productivity drop can be undone.  It will not be undone by redoing the training.  It will be undone by assessing the human factors and user experiences of those using the EHR, by researching how they users want to use it, and by reconfiguring the user interface.

This is not cheap, but it is much less expensive than the cost of loss productivity.


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