Electronic health records (EHRs) have potential to improve quality, health outcomes, and efficiency, but little is known about the mechanisms through which these improvements occur.
One potential mechanism could be that EHRs improve care team communication and coordination, leading to better outcomes. To test this hypothesis, we examine whether ease of EHR use is associated with better relational coordination (RC), a measure of team communication and coordination, among primary care team members.
Surveys of adult primary care team members (n = 304) of 16 practices of two accountable care organizations in Chicago and Los Angeles were analyzed. The survey included a validated measure of RC and a measure of ease of EHR use from a national survey. Linear regression models estimated the association of ease of EHR use and RC, controlling for care site and patient demographics and accounting for cluster–robust standard errors. An interaction term tested a differential association of ease of EHR use and RC for primary care providers (PCPs) versus non-PCPs.
Ease of EHR use (mean = 3.5, SD = 0.6, range: 0–4) and RC were high (mean = 4.0, SD = 0.7, range: 0–5) but differed by occupation. In regression analyses, a 1-point increase in ease of EHR use was associated with a 0.36 point higher RC score (p = .001). The association of ease of EHR and RC use was stronger for non-PCPs than PCPs.
Ease of EHR use is associated with better RC among primary care team members, and the benefits accrue more to non-PCPs than to PCPs.
Ensuring that clinicians and staff experience EHRs as easy to use for accessing and integrating data and for communication may produce gains in efficiency and outcomes through high RC. Future studies should examine whether interventions to improve EHR usability can lead to improved RC and patient outcomes.