Software Is Dramatically Better Than Paper – Even if EHR Is Far from Perfection

After writing my piece yesterday on the reasons so many physicians are burnt out and my previous New Year’s post on physicians getting pissed off, I thought it might be good to add a little more perspective to the discussion.

In a perfect act of serendipity I came across this great article with quotes from Ross Koppel, scholar in the Sociology Department & School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. First, he puts the situation many organizations find themselves in:

If I buy a toaster and my wife says, ‘It’s lousy; throw it out,’ to preserve domestic tranquility I throw out the toaster and buy a new one. If I spend $1.2 billion or $1.7, I am married and I don’t have a heck of a lot of options.

Then he offers what I think is a proper reality check:

There has been increasing rage on the part of physicians and others about the software not being responsive to their needs. That said, I would be the last person on Earth to argue we should go back to paper. The software is dramatically better than paper. [emphasis added]

I’m sure that some doctors will come on this post and start to point out the virtues of paper. No doubt, there were a lot of good things about paper. A long time ago I wrote a post that described the perfect interface that was infinitely flexible, multi-lingual, no training needed, etc and I was just describing the virtues of the paper chart. I get the paper chart was great for a lot of reasons, but it was awful for a lot of reasons as well. I’m reminded of this post called “Don’t Act Like Paper Charting Was Fast.” I won’t even mention how much time was wasted trying to read illegible charts or searching for the chart that could not be found. Oh wait, I just did.

The problem with all the benefits of EHR is that we quickly take them for granted and promptly forget about them. However, the problems and challenges stare us in the face and annoy us every day. Let’s just reconcile us to the fact that the Perfect EMR is Mythology. However, in many ways it’s better than paper and I don’t see anyone going back.

Here’s where I usually do my sidebar and say that doesn’t mean that EHR vendors can’t do better. They can and should. Hopefully the meaningful use handcuffs that we put on them will indeed be removed and they can focus their attention on making EHRs better as opposed to government regulation. Every EHR vendor I know would celebrate this as well!

If you can’t celebrate the small but powerful benefits of being able to read everything in your EHR and being able to instantly pull up every record. We’ve seen glimpses of other benefits coming to your EHR that are great. Take a second to talk to Jimmie Vanagon about how his #ProjectedEHR and patient portal has changed how he sees and cares for patients.

Want to see other innovation happening in the EHR space? Learn about what Modernizing Medicine is doing with EMA Grand Rounds and Watson. The grand rounds approach is genius and can really inform the care a doctor provides. Unfortunately, we don’t hear much about it, even from them, because I don’t know anyone who’s based their EHR buying decision on if it would improve care in their organization. Sure, they didn’t want it to decrease care, but did they really evaluate the EHR based on it’s ability to improve care? No. They ask if it would meet meaningful use. They ask if it will improve reimbursement. They ask if it will improve productivity. Where’s “Will it improve care?” in that list?

Chew on that concept for a minute. How many EHR systems were bought in order to improve care?

What would it take for a healthcare organization to be ready to make an EHR selection based on the care that an EHR system provided? Would the current crop of EHR vendors be able to adapt? Would it require a whole new breed of EHR software (or maybe a different name)? Will any of the current EHR vendors adapt enough that they could illustrate that their EHR improved care so substantially that it would be nearly malpractice for a healthcare organization to pick any EHR but there’s? Is this what we need to happen for doctors to love EHR?

As I wrote at the New Year, I’m optimistic for healthcare IT. There’s so much potential for us to better utilize technology to improve healthcare. There’s so much non-technology that could benefit healthcare as well. Sometimes it’s just baffling that we can’t get out of our own way. What is clear to me is that we’re not going back to paper.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.