Interprofessional Communication Goes Up When the Electronic Health Record Goes Down

Jane Y Zhao, Evan G Kessler, Weidun A Guo
Journal of Surgical Education 2019, 76 (2): 512-518

OBJECTIVE: The electronic health record (EHR) has been faulted for the erosion of interprofessional communication and the patient-physician relationship. Surgical residents may be susceptible to communication workarounds facilitated by the EHR, but the full extent is not well understood. A recent ransomware attack with the abrupt return to paper charting provided a unique opportunity to investigate the impact of the EHR on surgical residents' interprofessional communication. We sought to explore how surgical residents perceived communications during the 2-month period when the EHR was inaccessible.

DESIGN: General surgery residents who rotated through the regional tertiary referral medical center and level I trauma center were invited to participate in a semistructured interview about communication with one another, faculty, staff, and patients during the downtime. A grounded theory approach was used to analyze the data.

SETTING: Regional tertiary referral medical center and level I trauma center.

PARTICIPANTS: General surgery residents who rotated through the affected site.

RESULTS: Ten general surgery residents were interviewed. Interviews revealed that the abrupt loss of the EHR impacted communication in three major ways: (1) engendered more professional courtesy and collegiality, (2) prioritized bedside patient care over documentation demands, and (3) encouraged more explicit and deliberate communications.

CONCLUSIONS: Our study demonstrates that the loss of the EHR encourages surgery residents interprofessional communication. With healthcare becoming increasingly digital, active efforts should be made to preserve the communication benefits by optimizing existing and emerging technology to facilitate direct face-to-face interactions.

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