Time for the latest entry in my series of Common EHR Implementation Issues. See also my previous posts on Unexpected EHR Expenses, EHR Performance Issues and a little follow up to avoiding the EHR performance issues altogether.
This weeks common EHR implementation issue is: Inadequate EHR Templates.
Before I begin with the major issues of inadequate EHR templates, it’s worth noting that there are a few EHR software out there that use a different EHR documentation paradigm than templates. For example, some use voice recognition to power their documentation. Others have a system that learns your documentation over time and based on that learning remembers how you want to document certain procedures. Others, use lots of independent documentation methods (one EHR vendor calls them controls – check box, radio button, freetext field, etc.) which can be grouped and used in interesting ways.
However, even with all of the above alternative documentation methods, there’s often an element of templating that’s occurring. They’re PR and marketing people will shudder at the term template, but concepts related to templates seem to pretty much always apply. For example, in voice recognition there’s something called a Macro. That’s basically a template. The EHR system that learns your documentation method is just using your initial documentation in the EHR to create personalized templates of how you like to document. The independent documentation methods often group those various “controls” into groups of common visits. That sounds like a template to me.
I’d be interested to hear of an EHR system that doesn’t use the principles of templates. It is worth noting that all EHR templates aren’t created equal. Some are much more flexible than others. Now to some details.
The inadequate EHR templates shows itself in a number of different ways.
No Specialty Specific EHR Templates – This has to be the complaint I hear the most. It usually goes something like this, “The EHR salesperson said they had
Incomplete or Unusable EHR Templates – You may have noticed a subtlety in the quote I put above. At the end the doctor says “templates I can use.” Maybe the EHR salesperson isn’t lying to you about them having those cardiology or neurology templates. Maybe they do have a bunch of templates for those specialties (or whatever specialty that interests you). However, just because they have templates for those specialties doesn’t mean that you’re going to want to use any of the templates that they’ve created.
My favorite complaint is when they say that the specialty templates seem to have been created be a general medicine doctor and not an actual specialist from that field. I’ve heard it far too much not to mention it.
The other major problem with this point is the unique documentation preferences of each doctor. Has there ever been any two doctors that document the same way? We could debate the good and bad merits of such documentation, but the point is that each doctor is very different. Some feel the need to over document the encounter. Other doctors want to just document the bare minimum. Plus, some (purposefully or not) do a terrible job documenting the visit. The templates in an EHR could reflect any of these various documentation patterns and depending on your perspective could mean that EHR has inadequate templates for your needs.
Hard to Modify, Add to, or Adjust – While not specifically an inadequate template, this is an important part of templates. Turns out that if a user can easily modify, add to or adjust a template that is inadequate, you’re going to be a lot better off. Some template systems are like pulling teeth to modify. Others are amazing at how you can on the fly modify the template.
One promise I can make you, You WILL want to modify their templates. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of someone using the templates perfectly out of the box. Well, maybe I’ve heard of one or two using them, but that was when they were complaining that they had no way to modify the things they wanted to change.
Avoiding EHR Template Inadequacies
The best way to avoid this issue is to test drive the EHR software and the specialty specific templates you hope to use. Run through the templates like you’re charting on some common patients. You’ll learn a lot about what templates are available doing this than anything else. You’ll see if the templates are overkill or below standard for your needs.
Another great test is to try using multiple templates for a complex patient. How easily is that done and how well does the documentation display?
Then, during your EHR demo with the EHR salesperson, ask them to modify part of the EHR template they’re using to document. Tell them you don’t like to ask one of those questions, so you’d like to see them remove it from the template. Many are likely to respond, “It can be done, but I’d have to switch systems to do it or I’d have to call in to tech support to make the change.” I think we all know the real message they’re sending.