In the span of the last five years, use and implementation of electronic health records in the U.S. has dramatically accelerated because of federal mandates and financial incentives directly related to the meaningful use program.

Because of these efforts, as well as time and resources invested by healthcare providers, electronic health records are more popular than at any point in the past and are now "the heart of health IT," according to research firm Frost & Sullivan.

Frost & Sullivan’s newest health IT analysis and report, "EHR Usability — CIOs Weigh in On What’s Needed to Improve Information Retrieval," shows what many have known, but confirms the fact. So, as the technology continues to proliferate and the market matures, more attention will need to be paid to ensure reliable information retrieval from the EHRs as the point-of-care becomes a priority for healthcare providers and practitioners.

In spite of significant progress in EHR adoption, there are still pitfalls and problems, according to the report. Frequently highlighted pain points include:

  • Slow and inaccurate information retrieval from EHRs, as well as difficulty in finding and reviewing data, which results in productivity losses for clinician end-users and creates potential risks to patient safety
  • Inability to create targeted queries or easily access unstructured data, such as clinician notes
  • Time-consuming data-entry tasks

"U.S. regulatory authorities will take notice of the growing chorus of complaints about EHR usability, resulting in a push to devote more resources to solving this issue," Frost & Sullivan connected health principal analyst Nancy Fabozzi said in a statement. "Further, the high levels of end-user frustration with usability present strong business opportunities for pioneering technology vendors."

According to the report, new vendors are emerging to address the industry's challenges, and continued innovation will most likely come from companies with deep expertise in advanced enterprise search technology.

Interestingly, the report suggests that natural language processing (NLP) and visualization dashboards are the technologies most suitable to improve EHR usability in the long term. "NLP can produce readable summaries of unstructured text, helping clinicians retrieve information needed for point-of-care decision making," the report states.

"Data visualization dashboards will enable end-users to quickly understand data trends, significantly enhancing ease-of-use by streamlining and organizing vast amounts of data," Fabozzi said. "The ability to triangulate EHR data with data from other sources is also crucial to ensure access to the right medical information for healthcare providers."

The Frost & Sullivan report reinforces the news that the EHR market is hugely strong and the technology is becoming more widely accepted. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), significant increases in the use of EHRs among physicians and hospitals are being seen.

ln an August news release, HHS notes that almost 8 in 10 office-based physicians reported that they adopted some type of EHR system as of 2013. Additionally, about half of all physicians had an EHR system with advanced functionalities as of last year a doubling of the adoption rate reported in 2009.

"Patients are seeing the benefits of health IT as a result of the significant strides that have been made in the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records," Karen DeSalvo, M.D., M.P.H., national coordinator for health information technology said in a statement.

Data for Frost & Sullivan's "EHR Usability — CIOs Weigh in On What’s Needed to Improve Information Retrieval" was collected from an online survey of IT professionals working in U.S. healthcare provider organizations, administered in conjunction with the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME).

The survey probes the key issues affecting access to structured and unstructured clinical data contained in EHRs. It also discusses EHR spending and perceptions on return on investment, core technology features needed to improve EHR search functionality, and additional technology solutions that users deploy to fill search functionality gaps.