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Med Student Survey: Interoperability Most Critical to Improving Healthcare

September 23, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Improved and meaningful patient data sharing is most critical to enhancing healthcare, according to medical student responses in the 10th annual Epocrates Future Physicians of America survey.

According to medical students, fragmented care is the No. 1 safety risk for today's patients, underscoring the need for improved and meaningful patient data sharing. Almost all students believe that easily sharing patient records among care teams is critical to improving patient care, yet 44 percent are concerned about the ability to do so within a hospital or practice and 73 percent worry about the ability to share patient information across unaffiliated practices.

This survey included more than 1,000 medical students who use Epocrates, a clinical decision support tool from Watertown, Mass.-based vendor athenahealth.  What’s more, 96 percent of respondents believe that improving the ability of electronic health record (EHR) systems to access patient data from other systems is important to providing better patient care, while the improvement of collaboration with extended care teams follows a close second. Additionally, 87 percent of students support creating a universal patient record.

This mirrors results from an athenahealth survey of practicing physicians earlier this year, which found 96 percent of physicians believe in the importance of accessing relevant patient data from other EHR systems. Ninety-five percent of physicians experienced a delay or difficulty delivering medical care because patients' health records were not accessible/shared.  "As a registered nurse, I've found it's nearly impossible to synchronize patient information obtained by different providers," Kenneth Iwuji, fourth year medical student at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, said in a press release statement. "Health systems all use a variety of vendors and none seem to talk to each other. In order to gain critical information about the patient, we are still stuck using phones and faxes, which aren't helpful in emergency situations. These barriers need to be broken down; there's no reason why information shouldn't flow freely and securely."

According to the survey, students embrace digital medicine, but are lukewarm on telemedicine, preferring face-to-face visits. When it comes to leveraging digital tools to enhance delivery of care, 41 percent of students turn to a medical app first for clinical answers while only 29 percent would seek advice from a peer first. Almost all would encourage patients to use monitoring devices (97 percent) or email them for treatment advice via a patient portal (74 percent). Yet an overwhelming 98 percent of medical students would prefer to see their future patients face-to-face for the initial visit as opposed to virtually. Even for follow-ups, 89 percent of students favor the traditional face-to-face exam.

Not surprisingly, burdensome documentation is overwhelming: 71 percent of third and fourth-year students report they spend more time documenting encounters than seeing the patients themselves. What's more, 80 percent expect they will continue to document more than interact with patients when they become physicians, the survey found.

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