Empowering patients while keeping their data safe has been the main objective since the conception of electronic health records (EHRs) and in recent years, overburdening physicians has made its way into the conversation as well. 

Stanford Medicine’s second Electronic Health Records National Symposium, held on Oct. 11, looked for solutions to these problems during the half-day event. With two panel discussions, several research presentations and nearly two dozen speakers from government, academia and industry, the shared success and struggles with the technology looked to help improve the lives of physicians in the years to come.

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, encouraged attendees to be optimistic about the future and the potential of electronic health records.

“There are absolutely legitimate, important concerns about privacy and about who should have access and how access should be protected,” he said. “But we should be able to address and affirm those concerns, protect privacy and still make health records more interoperable — and very importantly, make them more searchable — so we can derive actionable information from the vast amounts of data that now are in an electronic format.”

During the first panel of the event, speakers discussed ways that EHRs could work better for patients, ensuring patients can access their own information. 

In a study of numerous hospitals, Harlan Krumholz, MD, a cardiologist and the founding director of the Yale New Haven Hospital Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, said he identified several obstacles patients face when attempting to access their records, including fees as high as $500 and refusal to share records, claiming health privacy law violation.

“Healthcare systems aren’t even letting people have all of their data,” he said. “The law states, clearly, you are entitled to all of your records.”

The second panel of the event focused on ways to help physicians minimize the documentation burden of EHRs, which doctors claim has significantly increased since the digital transition. 

“Our colleagues in the legal profession are not asked as lawyers and judges to simultaneously do their legal work and create the legal record of that work,” said Christine Sinsky, MD, vice president of professional satisfaction at the American Medical Association. “But we have asked that of healthcare professionals.”

Suggestions from the panelists included physicians learning more efficient ways to use the technology, programming the systems to allow more succinct versions of the doctor’s notes, and encouraging doctors to be more involved in the developing of workflow and user experience.


“We have to recognize the fact that not everything has to be done by a physician,” said Edward Lee, MD, executive vice president of information technology and chief information officer with the Permanente Federation.

In the past year, the federal government has changed the rules to allow medical students and other members of the healthcare team to help providers document a patient’s care, said Steven Lin, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Stanford. “So why not patients and families?” he asked.

“After all,” he added, “what are notes except stories about patients? And shouldn’t patients have the right to be co-authors of their own stories?”

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