New generation of physicians: new EHR demands

The iconic clipboard has finally jumped the shark. It’s officially a piece of nostalgia — at least as far as many of today’s up and coming doctors are concerned.

Having grown up with computers in the classroom, videogames in the family room and cell phones in their cargo pants’ pockets, today’s Gen Y and Gen X doctors are more than ready to ditch the paper and to fully embrace the use of computers in the practice of medicine.

As a result, healthcare organizations are being pressured to create and maintain environments that support computerized clinical care — a far cry from the mission of just a few years ago, when software companies and healthcare providers had to cajole physicians just to consider the possibility of digital care.

The upshot? Vendors need to design — and healthcare organizations need to implement — sophisticated computerized systems that satisfy these tech-savvy doctors, professionals who don’t just grudgingly accept EHRs and the like but demand the use of cutting-edge technology at every turn.

A demanding change
A variety of studies point to the fact that today’s young physicians fully intend to practice medicine with the aid of computers — and will accept nothing less.

Consider the following:

  • Technology is a common part of life for today’s young doctors and medical students. A survey of 7,705 U.S. college students conducted for the 2007 book, Connecting to the Net Generation, found that these students — some of whom already could have moved on to medical school and residency — were very well connected, as 97 percent of them owned a computer and 94 percent owned a cell phone while 75 percent had a Facebook account and 60 percent owned some sort of portable media device.
  • The 2011 National Physician Survey, Canada’s largest survey of physicians and medical students, found that 81.5 percent of family medicine residents expect to use EHRs rather than paper records when they go into practice, an increase from 75 percent in 2007. “As new doctors enter the work force, they bring new approaches to the practice of medicine,” said Dr. John Haggie, president of the Canadian Medical Association. “They understand intuitively that they can provide high-quality, patient-centered care through the use of new technology and other tools.”
  • A study published in the December 2008 issue of Academic Medicine, the journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, found that new physicians coming out of high-tech learning environments feel less capable of providing safe patient care when placed in environments with less health information technology. Eighty percent of 328 respondents reported “feeling less able to practice safe patient care, to utilize evidence at the point of care, to work efficiently, to share and communicate information, and to work effectively with the local system.”

Altered approaches
With more and more young doctors joining the professional ranks of clinicians and the federal government pushing the adoption of EHRs by offering $27 billion in incentive funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, technology advocates look like they are finally getting what they’ve been seeking for decades: a healthcare industry that is ready to truly embrace computerization.

Although the incentive funds will help healthcare providers overcome many of the financial hurdles that had prevented them from adopting technology in the past, leaders must consider the changing characteristics of the clinical workforce if they are going to realize long-term success.

Indeed, these technology-embracing clinicians present a whole new set of challenges for leaders seeking to computerize medicine.

As such, software vendors must develop — and medical organizations must implement — systems that meet the very complex needs of these doctors.

Although the goal used to be to garner “adoption,” leaders must now approach the EHR challenge with physician “satisfaction” in mind. And that could be a tall order when considering the demands of today’s young doctors.

Because these physicians are more comfortable with technology, they are likely to demand more advanced systems.  Some young doctors, for example, are apt to question how long it takes to accomplish certain tasks — and point out that a certain system requires too many clicks to complete routine tasks or is too cumbersome to log on to.  Others might compare the system to other solutions that they have used in the past — and demand certain features and functionality.  And, of course, many will expect the same high-quality user interfaces and graphics that they experience when they play video games, interact with financial institutions or connect with friends on social media sites.

In addition, leaders need to develop and implement solutions that:

Support mobility.  Young physicians are accustomed to using technology on-the-go. Simply being able to access an EHR from a computer is not enough.  These physicians have been texting away for years — and expect to conduct business and take care of patients directly from their tablets and smartphones.

Offer do-it-yourself customization. Young physicians have been fiddling with user preferences on computers and gaming systems since their pre-school years. As a result, they not only want to customize technology systems — they want to be able to do it themselves. Indeed, these physicians want to work with EHRs that they can modify to their individual preferences. But they don’t want to wait for an information technology staff member or consultant to make modifications to a program. Instead, they want to have the option to do it themselves.

Promote easy interaction with patients. Young doctors want to use technology as they are treating their patients — but they also want to be able to easily communicate with these patients. In essence, they don’t want their heads buried in a computer screen while their patients stare aimlessly at the exam room walls.  Leaders must develop and implement systems that allow physicians to fully engage patients in the conversation — even while they are entering clinical notes.

By implementing EHRs with these advanced functions, leaders can ensure that today’s young doctors are completely satisfied and on board with organizational information technology efforts.  As such, the healthcare industry, as a whole, can move beyond the simple adoption of technology and toward the complete realization of the many clinical and operational benefits that will come as technologically savvy physicians fully embrace sophisticated systems.

Ash Mehta, MBA, is chief executive officer of PatientClick, an EHR company based in Cleveland with offices in San Diego.  PatientClick offers online electronic health record management solutions designed and built specifically for physicians and small medical clinics.