EMR Templates

Posted on September 6, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’m always fascinated by a discussion of EMR templates. A little while back on the 3M blog, they wrote what I think is a pretty good summary of the pros and cons of EMR templates:

Using template-based documentation provided by most EHR vendors allows for documentation to be available almost immediately for communication with the rest of the care team, which is important especially for daily progress notes. Choosing templates over dictation-transcription eliminates the variable of transcription turnaround time, which can range from a few hours, to a day or more. Templates also allow documentation to be created in a consistent and structured format, with up-to-date problem lists.

There are clearly many benefits associated with the use of templates, however from what we’re hearing there also are a number of drawbacks to this strategy. Coding, communication with other care providers, and physician efficiency can all be impacted by template-based documentation. We’re seeing that physicians don’t capture as much information when they fill out a form-based template as they do when they are allowed to capture the patient narrative in their own words, either through writing or dictating. Key information may be missing, which impacts both the care team and coding—and could result in the dreaded “every patient looks the same from the documentation” issue. Some physicians tell us that templates slow down their daily workflow, making them frustrated with their organization’s EHR implementation.

The discussion of EMR template use is a complex one. In many cases you can see the benefits of using an EMR template, but there are also a lot of downsides to their use. I remember when Dr. West wrote a blog post about why he loves his EMR templates. As I thought about his views I realized what the difference was in his templates and the templates that many other doctors use. He created his own EMR templates that were specific to him. I think that makes all the difference in the world.

Turns out that no one really hates EMR templates or loves EMR templates. They’re just a means to an end. What then are the benefits and challenges of using EMR templates.

EMR Template Benefits:

  • Saves Time (if designed well)
  • Helps Ensure Standard of Care
  • Documentation Always Found in Same Location on the Page

EMR Template Challenges

  • Every Chart Looks the Same
  • Lots of Clicks (if designed poorly)
  • Abnormals are Difficult to Identify
  • Difficult to Document Multiple Chief Complaints
  • Template Not Physician Specific (or takes a lot of time to create ones that are)

I’m sure there are other points worth noting. I look forward to hearing which ones I might have missed in the comments. I think the key when considering templates is how to make sure you get the benefits while mitigating the down sides. I think this is possible, but it takes some time and a thoughtful approach to make it happen.