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A health IT implementation brings work interruptions

Undertaking a health IT implementation will result in numerous interruptions to the workflows of clinicians and associated staff members, though those interruptions frequently don’t involve the new technology system. Two U.S. healthcare organizations — which included one specialty and five primary care providers — accepted funding from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to see what kind of effect implementing health IT would have on their clinical workflows.

Each organization experienced an escalation in the frequency of interruptions after their technology installations. The two most significant of these events were talking to patients and talking to co-workers, the latter of which rose by an average of more than two instances per hour post-implementation.

A primary conclusion reached in the study was that technology installations and alterations resulted in “a redistribution of clinicians’ and clinic staff’s time, repurposed usage of workspace, increased level of interruptions, multitasking, and off-hours work activities.” The study noted that healthcare staff developed workarounds to address workflows issues and prevent patient care from suffering due to patients getting “lost in the system.” To avoid that failure, staff members went through an extra step and kept paper records to back up the work of the newly-implemented system.

One organization that took part in the study was testing how a new EHR system replaced its former EHR. The second organization added a standardized message center, electronic homepage, computerized provider order entry and e-prescribing on to its current EHR. One of the items measured in the AHRQ study was how much time medical staff spent communicating on computers before and after its health IT implementation. The largest jump in this area was nearly 13%, though medical assistants at that same facility showed 4.56% decrease in computer communication, perhaps reflecting the study’s conclusion about technology forcing employees to shift responsibilities.

Providers at the specialty care clinic spent 40% more time on their computers during work “off-hours” at the end of the study compared to the beginning. However, two primary care facilities showed a reduction in how much time their staff spent on their computers during non-work hours after they completed health IT implementations.