The introduction of electronic health records (EHRs) promised to be a breakthrough in an industry plagued by inefficiency and bureaucratic backlog. But as Dr. Robert Wachter and healthcare consultant Jeff Goldsmith point out in their recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, rather than being a cure, EHRs have become part of the problem.

A leading expert on using digital technology to improve health care, Watcher and his co-author describe the reasons behind the unhappy digitization of health care. They also outline three concrete steps providers and tech developers can take to make EHRs more useful and efficient, and revolutionize health care in the process.

“For EHRs to become truly useful tools and liberate clinicians from the busywork, a revolution in usability is required.”Click To Tweet

“Clinicians are spending almost half their professional time typing, clicking and checking boxes on electronic records,” the authors write. But EHRs “can and must be made into useful, easy-to-use tools that liberate, rather than oppress, clinicians” – if EHR designers approach software development in a new way:

Paint a picture of the patient

EHRs must resemble social media updates: quick, to-the-point, and containing only the most recent and relevant information about patients. Providers can’t be overwhelmed by boatloads of meaningless clinical data.

Typing and point and click must go

Health care technology must leverage voice and gesture-based recognition software, rather than doctors, nurses and scribes (yes, they now hire scribes!) taking detailed notes and entering them into the EHRs.

AI must make the clinical system smarter

Such tasks as billing, coding and ensuring regulatory compliance need to be far more automated than they currently are, allowing patients to enter their information remotely and patient data to flow automatically to where it’s needed.

While digital technology has disrupted nearly every industry beyond recognition, it has not yet made much of an impact on what is arguably the most important industry of all: maintaining human health and longevity. Through his speaking, writing and consulting work, Dr. Wachter communicates concrete plans of action for health care providers to use technology to their advantage. Making EHRs useful is the starting point.