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Software is Policy: Electronic Health Record Governance and the Implications of Clinical Standardization.

Brunner J, Cannedy S, McCoy M, Hamilton AB, Shelton J. Software is Policy: Electronic Health Record Governance and the Implications of Clinical Standardization. Journal of general internal medicine. 2023 Oct 5.

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BACKGROUND: Electronic health record (EHR) implementations, whether replacing paper or electronic systems, are major social and organizational transformations. Yet studies of EHR-to-EHR transitions have largely neglected to elucidate accompanying social and organizational changes. One such underexplored change is the standardization of clinical practice in the context of EHR transitions. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has begun a decade-long process of replacing the approximately 130 separate versions of its homegrown EHR with a single commercial EHR system. This provides an opportunity to explore the standardization of clinical practice amidst an EHR transition. OBJECTIVE: To identify, in the context of a large-scale EHR transition, (1) the scope and content of clinical standardization and (2) the anticipated implications of such standardization. DESIGN: Qualitative study. PARTICIPANTS: Twenty-nine members of VA councils established for the EHR transition. APPROACH: We conducted semi-structured interviews, which were professionally transcribed, and analyzed first using rapid analysis methods, followed by coding and content analysis. KEY RESULTS: Clinical standardization across facilities was a central goal of the EHR transition, encompassing computerized recommendations, order sets, professional roles/permissions, and clinical documentation. The anticipated implications of this standardization include (i) potential efficiency gains, with less duplicated effort across facilities; (ii) expanded bureaucracy; and (iii) increased uniformity, reducing both wanted and unwanted variation in care. CONCLUSIONS: EHR systems shape a wide range of clinical processes, particularly in a large organization like VA with a long history of EHR use. This makes standardization of EHR content a powerful mechanism for standardizing clinical practice itself, which can bring dramatic collateral consequences. Organizations undergoing EHR transitions need to recognize the important role that clinical standardization plays by treating EHR transitions as major organizational transformations in the governance of clinical practice.

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