Are Some Healthcare Organizations Heading Towards EHR Induced PTSD?

Posted on October 6, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and 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 want to be careful with this analogy since I know that there are millions of people out there that suffer from PTSD. Many of these people have gone untreated and haven’t gotten the help they need. It’s a failing of our healthcare system in many ways and I hope that it’s one we work to resolve. I don’t want to treat these challenging mental condition lightly. However, as I look at the world of healthcare IT and EHR in particular, I see some similarities which might help some organizations avoid an organizational PTSD due to their EHR.

The Mayo Clinic website describes PTSD as follows:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.

While the analogy isn’t perfect, I’ve seen so many healthcare organizations that are in a haze in this post-EHR implementation world. The race to select and implement their EHR as they chased the government EHR incentive money was so quick that many healthcare IT organizations see their EHR implementation as a “terrifying event” for their organization and many still haven’t recovered from the event. In fact, I’m sure there are some that aren’t sure they’ll ever be able to recover.

Let me be clear that I’m talking about heading towards an organizational PTSD and not an individual one. While there might be a few massive EHR failures that could fall into individual PTSD, those would be very rare. However, there are plenty of healthcare organizations who have been so focused on their EHR implementation that they’re kind of shell shocked when it comes to where to guide their organization next.

This additional description about PTSD from the Mayo website is helpful as well:

Many people who go through traumatic events have difficulty adjusting and coping for a while, but they don’t have PTSD — with time and good self-care, they usually get better. But if the symptoms get worse or last for months or even years and interfere with your functioning, you may have PTSD.

No doubt, the majority of healthcare organizations aren’t going to fall all the way into an organizational PTSD due to their EHR implementation. That doesn’t mean we should discount that their EHR implementation might have been a “traumatic event” and that they’ll have “difficulty adjusting and coping” with the changes for a while. We see that across healthcare. I’m sure that most health IT vendors selling into that marketplace are very familiar with the current shell shocked state of the industry. However, in time things will get better and they already have for many organizations. This is why I’m so excited for the future of healthcare IT.

With that said, there will be a few outlier organizations which can’t recover and fall into full organizational PTSD. How can you know if your organization is in jeopardy of this happening? I’d consider two questions as you evaluate your organization. How many EHR projects keep going around in circles? and How many non-EHR health IT projects have you done?

I get that EHR has been all consuming and future regulations like meaningful use stage 3 could make things even more challenging. However, I’ve seen so many organizations stuck spinning their wheels on the same EHR issues over and over. Usually this is a reflection of poor leadership. Effective leadership is the only way I know how to solve this problem. A quality leader doesn’t let these problems fester and become a permanent burr in the side of an organization. Leaders work with their teams to find the very best solutions possible and communicate with stakeholders the efforts they made to solve challenges and the compromises that were required. When this doesn’t happen EHR projects go around in circles and lead to organizational PTSD. Once that happens it usually leads to an organization being bought out by another organization.

The second question is just as interesting to me. Think about your organization and the last non-EHR related healthcare IT projects you’ve done. Some might even ask themselves when they last thought about or spent time discovering what other non-health IT projects could benefit their organization. Have you started moving beyond the EHR or is your EHR still paralyzing you?

I get that the EHR is the heart of a healthcare organization. That’s not going to change any time soon. Healthcare organizations need to make sure their heart is working properly or they’ll have other issues. However, we need to move beyond the EHR and meaningful use and not get stuck in an organizational PTSD state.