Contest Pits Electronic Medical Records Against Pen and Paper

Pen and paper often won out in terms of speed at the demonstration, but there's more to patient care than watching the clock, attendees learned at the Toward an Electronic Patient Record conference.

SALT LAKE CITY—Companies selling electronic medical record systems pit their IT against pens and paper this week at the Medical Records Institutes conference here.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, nineteen companies selling EMRs (electronic medical record systems) were each given seven minutes—the time clinicians generally need to document a patient visit—to show their product. The event, called the Clinical Documentation Challenge, is now in its sixth year.

Electronic systems are gaining ground, but paper was still faster than IT about six out of seven times at this years Toward an Electronic Patient Record conference.

Most of the time, the clock ran out before EMR systems could document plans to treat a patient. But the clinical commentators who reviewed each demonstration stressed that time should not be the only consideration: Physicians also should look for the ability to quickly view patients history or print out personalized information for them.

"The bar of entry has risen," said Barry Blumenfeld, who has been a clinical commentator for the past three challenges and helps run clinical informatics research at Partners Healthcare System Inc. Both the number and quality of participants reached a high point this year, he said, and the set of functions common to all EMRs expanded.

Particularly striking has been the increase in structured documentation, a necessary first step to being able to aggregate and analyze data. "Three years ago, that was the exception rather than the rule," he said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about large doctors groups trying electronic medical records.

Dinesh Pai, director of business services at Novant Health, said the most useful part was being able to watch and discuss products with colleagues also attending the conference. But he said he was frustrated that often people other than physicians gave the demonstrations. Better than the demonstrations, he said, was the "hammering" following each.

Blumenfeld and Thomas Sullivan, past president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, provided these reviews. Their attitude was similar to that of a demanding teacher critiquing a rough draft of a student essay. They heaped praise on vendors for braving a public audience and for specific design features; then, they used each demonstration to highlight general considerations for choosing EMRs.

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