EMR Costs Outweigh Benefits, Physicians Say

Nobody likes paying for something that’s expensive but not that valuable. But that’s the position many physicians feel they’re in when they buy an EMR, FierceHealthIT reports.

A new study by athenahealth concludes that while physicians do feel EMRs deliver benefits, the expense they have to take on outweigh the benefits EMRs deliver. The EMR vendor surveyed 1,200 physicians, 70 percent specialists and 30 percent primary care doctors to learn more about their attitudes toward EMRs, FHIT said.

The study wasn’t all bad news for EMR use. Thirty-eight percent of doctors had a “somewhat favorable” opinion, and 31 percent had a “very favorable” opinion of EMRs. That being said, 51 percent of responding physicians said that the financial benefits of EMRs don’t outweigh the cost, athenahealth found.

The study found that physicians were more familiar with EMRs than they were when athenahealth did its 2012 Physician Sentiment Index. But doctors’ willingness to buy an EMR  has actually fallen, probably because those who haven’t done it at this late date are particularly resistant. Meanwhile, one thing that hasn’t changed since last year is that doctors don’t think EMRs are made with their practice needs in mind.

Sadly, these results aren’t much of a surprise. While some doctors are adapting to their EMR installation, they’re still struggling with clunky interfaces and questionable vendor support.  Some practices have spent years waiting for their pre-EMR productivity to come back, and have found that it just isn’t happening.

But here and there there are some signs that vendors are “getting it.” For example, I really liked a story John wrote about how EMR vendor Elation requires programmers to shadow a physician as part of the hiring process. To my mind, this kind of thinking is far more likely to bear fruit than the existing system, which puts programmers at a considerable remove from their product’s end users.

The truth is, we’re never going to reach the point where all physicians are EMR boosters, but it’d be nice if we at least reached a point where most saw EMRs as being worth the (big) pricetag.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • The key message in this is “. .these results aren’t much of a surprise”.

    Why so? Simply because healthcare is not a cookie cutter business.

    Healthcare organizations spend years building competitive advantage (same as other organizations in different organizations do) and when a “solution” requires you to change the way you work, you lose some of that competitive advantage.

    Increased regulator intervention not only levels the playing field, some feel it creates a tradeoff between providing quality care to individual patients and long term outcomes data collection.

    In the normal course of events physicians want a specific focus on individual patients. The do not mind some data collection for the “greater good” of their healthcare facility, or the government, but not to the point where they become “data trolls”.

    Any EMR should reasonably allow healthcare professionals to build, own and manage THEIR workflows, using forms they relate to. Cookie cutter “solutions” do not accommodate this nor do systems that require “customization”.

    If you are in the market for an EMR and your only choices are cookie-cutter solutions or systems that require customization (as opposed to configuration), keep shopping…

  • No surprise that many physicians don’t like EHRs — why should they?for physicians in private practice, it lowers their income. Paper documentation is just fine by them. However, healthcare costs are out of control, and EHRs can help control costs. Physicians have to realize that they are part of an unsustainable system, and their own livelihood is in jeopardy of costs are not reduced. They also have an obligation to spend the necessary time and effort to pick an EHR that will work for them. Some physicians spend 10 minutes on their EHR purchase decision, and they get what they deserve.

  • The first part of your post relates to reality and is useful. Doctors are stating clearly that EHRs are not working.

    Your last 2 paragraghs about what you HOPE will happen in the futre is dangerous.

    The current reality is bad and we need to admit that.

    The future is something we should work for.

    BUT you should not use a hopeful future (Vaporware?) to justify the horrors and cost and drop in productivity of the current treality.

  • How would it work to have programmers shadow lawyers and then go away and build a word processor?

    Why would they want to do this anyway when the legal firm can go out and get off-the-shelf software such as MS Word?

    The facts for medicine are that it is possible to build flowgraphs for some protocols (decision trees have been around for a long time) but at the individual patient level what is needed is the ability to accommodate virtually any mix of structured steps and unstructured “interventions” (launched by healthcare professionals, launched by robots, launched by data triggers, launched by patient handling policy/procedure governance rule sets).

    Shadowing a physician is not going to get a vendor to where they have an EMR that is sensitive to individual physician/clinic/hospital needs.

    And, the use of a programmer implies that these people are going to go off somewhere and write up custom computer code.

    We are way beyond this – facilitators can interview physicians/ nurses/admin staff and configure (not customize) off-the-shelf software to attend to the specific needs of a healthcare organization and roll out software that increases productivity as opposed to decreasing productivity.

    See “The facilitator is coming” at


  • I have a bias about either custom software and/or software with a very high degree of configuration (sandbox). In my experience the best software I have seen was custom it was also the worst. Be very careful what you wish for in customization with a keen eye on forward compatibility, business continuity and interoperability.

    Many clients jump at “make the software do this” when the conversation really should start with larger end goals and finding out how the software was designed to get to those goals. Significantly deviating from the intended design path is not without risk for even the most robust applications.

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