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Why Doctors Hate Their Computers

Tuesday November 6, 2018. 05:02 PM , from Slashdot
Digitization promises to make medical care easier and more efficient. But are screens coming between doctors and patients? Here's an excerpt by Atul Gawande of The New Yorker, which talks about the deployment of Epic, a new medical software which cost Partners HealthCare a staggering $1.6 billion, panned out: On May 30, 2015, the Phase One Go-Live began. My hospital and clinics reduced the number of admissions and appointment slots for two weeks while the staff navigated the new system. For another two weeks, my department doubled the time allocated for appointments and procedures in order to accommodate our learning curve. This, I discovered, was the real reason the upgrade cost $1.6 billion. The software costs were under a hundred million dollars. The bulk of the expenses came from lost patient revenues and all the tech-support personnel and other people needed during the implementation phase. In the first five weeks, the I.T. folks logged twenty-seven thousand help-desk tickets -- three for every two users. Most were basic how-to questions; a few involved major technical glitches. Printing problems abounded. Many patient medications and instructions hadn't transferred accurately from our old system. My hospital had to hire hundreds of moonlighting residents and pharmacists to double-check the medication list for every patient while technicians worked to fix the data-transfer problem. Many of the angriest complaints, however, were due to problems rooted in what Sumit Rana, a senior vice-president at Epic, called 'the Revenge of the Ancillaries.' In building a given function -- say, an order form for a brain MRI -- the design choices were more political than technical: administrative staff and doctors had different views about what should be included. The doctors were used to having all the votes. But Epic had arranged meetings to try to adjudicate these differences. Now the staff had a say (and sometimes the doctors didn't even show), and they added questions that made their jobs easier but other jobs more time-consuming. Questions that doctors had routinely skipped now stopped them short, with 'field required' alerts. A simple request might now involve filling out a detailed form that took away precious minutes of time with patients.

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