Electronic health records, communication, and data sharing: challenges and opportunities for improving the diagnostic process

Diagnosis (Berl). 2019 Aug 27;6(3):241-248. doi: 10.1515/dx-2018-0036.


Background Diagnosis requires that clinicians communicate and share patient information in an efficient manner. Advances in electronic health records (EHRs) and health information technologies have created both challenges and opportunities for such communication. Methods We conducted a multi-method, focused ethnographic study of physicians on general medicine inpatient units in two teaching hospitals. Physician teams were observed during and after morning rounds to understand workflow, data sharing and communication during diagnosis. To validate findings, interviews and focus groups were conducted with physicians. Field notes and interview/focus group transcripts were reviewed and themes identified using content analysis. Results Existing communication technologies and EHR-based data sharing processes were perceived as barriers to diagnosis. In particular, reliance on paging systems and lack of face-to-face communication among clinicians created obstacles to sustained thinking and discussion of diagnostic decision-making. Further, the EHR created data overload and data fragmentation, making integration for diagnosis difficult. To improve diagnosis, physicians recommended replacing pagers with two-way communication devices, restructuring the EHR to facilitate access to key information and improving training on EHR systems. Conclusions As advances in health information technology evolve, challenges in the way clinicians share information during the diagnostic process will rise. To improve diagnosis, changes to both the technology and the way in which we use it may be necessary.

Keywords: challenges and opportunities; clinician communication; diagnostic error; diagnostic process; electronic health records; health data sharing; medical diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Communication*
  • Diagnosis*
  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination*
  • Inpatients
  • Internal Medicine
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medical Informatics
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Teaching Rounds*