Improving the EHR for Our Patients

October 3, 2018

To the Penn Medicine Community:

Penn Medicine faces a new opportunity and a new challenge, and we need your support. We are writing to announce an initiative to transform the way we use electronic health records (EHRs) and other digital media, to make them serve our patients better by helping them support our clinicians better.

The opportunity comes from recognizing that EHRs are no longer just part of how clinical care is documented, but central to how clinical care is delivered. The best health outcomes for our patients depend not only on the development and expert deployment of drugs, procedures, devices, and diagnostics but also on developing and deploying health information technology (IT). Indeed, IT has moved beyond its original administrative functions into an essential role in how we care for patients -- its value no longer defined by success at documentation and billing, but by advances in our ability to care for the patients and community we serve. And so, just as Penn Medicine aims to lead through its development of new approaches to preventing, diagnosing, and treating disease, we also aim to lead by advancing the IT infrastructure on which all modern health care delivery is built.

The challenge is responding to rising clinician frustration with EHRs. Clinicians are concerned that they are being turned into data clerks, worry that charting competes with clinical care, and feel that engaging with the EHR encroaches on their personal lives. There are many reasons for clinician burnout, but the often frustrating design of EHRs tops most lists.

Conventional approaches to reducing clinician discontent with EHRs have centered almost exclusively on helping clinicians to become better at data entry -- teaching them about order sets and templates or voice recognition tools, for example, aiming to help clinicians master the software. There is value to this approach but following that approach exclusively is shortsighted.

We choose a different path, one that meets the challenge of clinician discontent with the the opportunity that comes from seeing EHRs as powerful clinical tools. When we build operating rooms and ambulatory care centers, laboratories and formularies, new training programs and community services, we build them around clinicians' and patients' needs. We do so because we recognize that solving for clinicians' needs is one of the surest paths toward meeting patient needs. We believe that our IT systems should be objects of the same strategic approach.

Today, we announce a bold new direction for IT at Penn Medicine. We aim to fundamentally improve how our digital systems enable us to advance the health and health care of our patients and our community. We need your input and support. We will soon be announcing a new innovation tournament to identify our earliest targets for change, and we will direct IS staff to work alongside all of you to create those improvements, test them, and refine them. We will be increasing our 1:1 personalization sessions in the meantime, to help you more effectively use the EHR as it stands. We will be introducing "sprints" in which clinical groups can work together with Penn IS to streamline and improve EHR interactions and our engagement with email and other digital media. Each of these early steps will help us define our directions and achieve our goal. Learn more about how to get involved.

That goal is to make the EHR a more clinician friendly and effective tool for the care of our patients. We hope you will help us along the way.


J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD

Executive Vice President, University of Pennsylvania for the Health System

Dean, Perelman School of Medicine

Ralph W. Muller

Chief Executive Officer

University of Pennsylvania Health System