How the Failure of EHRs Stifles Digital Innovation in Healthcare

Don’t Believe the Digital Healthcare Hype


If you’re like me, you probably browse through news online every day. You might even have some Google alerts set up, as I do, to let you know when something new is published regarding certain topics. And reading online, you might get the impression that healthcare is moving full-speed into the realm of innovation: just in the last month, Google lists more than 60,000 news items for “digital health innovation”.

But are digital technologies really “changing everything” in healthcare? A just-released report from the AMA and AVIA, paints a very different picture.

The survey, done late 2016 and into 2017, included more than 300 hospital CEOs and innovation leaders from a wide variety of healthcare organizations across the US.

Click image to download report

Click image to download report

Most summaries of the report lead with the fact that roughly 75% of those surveyed believed that “digital innovation is important because it has strong ties to long-term strategy and competitive differentiation” and that “digital innovation is a priority at their organization.”

Similarly, 93% of leaders said that “their teams understand the value of digital innovation” and 85% that digital innovation “is tied to their long-term strategy”.

But given that strong acceptance of the importance of digital innovation, the percentage of leaders who reported engaging in it was strikingly low.

The Gap Between Acceptance and Implementation

For example, 26% of respondents reported already implementing a solution to address “convenient patient access (including telemedicine)” — and even that low percentage was high enough to count as one of the top five areas of engagement.

Moving past the early implementers to those who were seeking to implement, the picture isn’t much more optimistic. Here are the top five identified priorities, along with the portion of respondents actively seeking a solution for each:


Yes, you read that right: the top area of active interest reported was in using digital innovation to better utilize patient-generated data — but a large majority of respondents were not seeking any solution in that area.

In the world of healthcare, using patient-generated data can be simultaneously a “top priority” and at the same time not be a target for implementation.

Once Burned (by EHRs), Twice Shy

So if these healthcare leaders are convinced that digital innovation is essential, what’s stopping them from moving forward? Not surprisingly, the report found that funding was an issue – in addition to uncertainty about the positive impact.

“[Healthcare leaders] report that when they do implement digital solutions, they are not yet yielding all of the expected benefits. As a result, it is difficult to realize a target ROI.”

Translation: “all risk, no reward.”

And certainly one of the biggest reasons for that skepticism about digital healthcare ROI is the EHR (electronic health record), implemented at the cost of billionsloathed by doctors, and lowering revenue. Having been burned when the benefits of EHRs have been slow to appear, it’s probably not a surprise that CEOs are reluctant to trust the digital salespeople again.

The real challenge, then, for those technologists who truly want to move US healthcare into the future is develop technologies and business models that can overcome the fear, uncertainty and doubt generated by EHR implementation — so that healthcare leaders who already talk the digital innovation talk will be willing to walk the walk.