Some of the excitement about digital health records seems to be waning. A survey from the American College of Physicians suggests a growing dissatisfaction among some physicians.

 

All the promise is still there: from lower health-care spending to ordering fewer unnecessary medical tests. The federal government is still paying out millions to hospitals and doctors to push them to use their e-systems in ways that improve patient care. But Dr. Michael Barr, senior vice president for medical practice professionalism at the college, said many doctors complain they are less productive -- and logging more hours on the job -- since making the switch to digital records.

"To be fair, I know a lot of physicians who used to do that in paper too," Barr said. "Not finish their notes until the afternoon, or late in the evening after their office hours were closed."

The college surveyed more than 4,000 doctors and found that overall satisfaction with electronic health records has dipped in the last three years.

Barr guesses that many doctors adopted new digital systems without redesigning their office workflow. Physicians end up electrifying their paper-based practice, Barr said. He calls it "paving the cow path."

"Instead of straightening the pathway and paving it, you are still going around the same meandering pathway, but you are going a little faster because it's paved instead of muddy," Barr explains.

Nearly 40 percent of the doctors surveyed said they would not recommend their electronic health record system to a colleague.

For a commentary from a Wilmington family physician Rebecca Jaffe on her experience with electronic health records, tune to WHYY-TV's First Extra: Health+Technology at 7:30 p.m. April 2 for the health team's special on the ways tech innovations are driving health care.