Tips for using EMRs effectively


All young physicians are adept at using electronic medical records. Do you agree? If so, you’d be wrong. It’s true that young, so-called “digital-native” physicians have more training and experience using EMRs, compared with those who trained in the days of paper charts. But young physicians are also inexperienced at caring for patients, and using a keyboard adds complexity to an already difficult task. Some struggle with the sheer volume of work that EMRs create, while others wrestle with the intrusive computer in the exam room. The former is a complex problem, and solving it involves improving both system and individual work flows. The latter is one I’ve had great success with when coaching inexperienced doctors.

One of my roles at Kaiser Permanente, San Diego, is to coach new physicians to help them perform at their best. In particular, we provide one-on-one help for physicians to optimize the quality of service they provide. More often than not, young physicians benefit from optimizing their work flow as much as from modifying their bedside manner.

Dr. Jeffrey Benabio

Dr. Jeffrey Benabio

Here are five common tips I share with them to improve their service while using EMRs:

• Preview coming attractions. High-quality interactions require that prep work be done before the visit begins. Before seeing your patient, review his or her record to learn about the medical history, particularly any recent important health issues. This is true even if the problem is not related to your specialty. This sends a strong signal to your patient that you know and care about him or her as a person.

• Connect with your patient first, then turn to HealthConnect (our version of the EPIC electronic record). For every patient, every visit, spend the first few minutes giving your undivided attention to them while in the room. Conversely, entering the room and logging on the computer immediately diminishes the quality of the experience for patients.

• Ask permission, not forgiveness. When you must use the EMR to review or to chart, ask permission first. Try something like, “This is important. Do you mind if I start typing some of this to be sure it is captured in your record?” I’ve never seen a patient object if you start typing. If they did, then the time isn’t right for you to go to the EMR, and it would best for you to address their concern first.

• Share the screen. Many patients love to see their chart. It’s like giving them a backstage pass. It’s also a great way to keep them engaged while you talk about their issues. Point things out to them and use it to engage in discussion. The better informed your patients are, the more likely they will evaluate you favorably, and the more likely they are to adhere to your advice.

• Complete diagnoses and write any prescriptions while in the room. This is a wonderful opportunity to engage with your patients on the risks and benefits of what you recommend, to review your specific instructions, and to allow them to see their diagnoses written out. Close with a printed copy of what just transpired. The act of giving something tangible makes the encounter feel complete, while also increasing patients’ retention of key information and their likelihood of following up as directed.

As more young physicians join us in the workforce, we know that it doesn’t matter much if you grew up with Facebook and Snapchat; using EMRs effectively is a learned skill that all of us can improve upon.

Dr. Benabio is a partner physician in the department of dermatology of the Southern California Permanente Group in San Diego. Dr. Benabio is @Dermdoc on Twitter. Write to him at [email protected].


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