Despite widespread implementation of electronic records, Norwegian doctors tend not to make full use of the functionality available to them in the systems, according to a study published in the
British Medical Journal.

Researchers from Trondheim looked at how medical staff used three different systems installed in 32 units. In total they received views from 227 doctors working in 19 hospitals.

Responses to the researchers’ questionnaire showed that doctors used the electronic records for their most traditional task: reading patient data. “Doctors used the systems for less than half the tasks for which the systems were functional. Among these unused functions were repetitive tasks such as writing prescriptions, which are apparently well-suited for computers.”

The researchers say that there may be a specific unmet training need for medical staff operating electronic records, but they found high levels of general computer literacy.

They speculate that paper records – which are still in daily use in Norwegian hospitals – may be more convenient in some situations, for example, when short prescriptions are being written.

They note that the technology had not changed the traditional division of labour with secretaries taking responsibility for entering daily notes and nurses for ordering tests.

”None of the electronic medical records systems seem to have stimulated the development of new or more advantageous ways of doing medical work, they have simply reinforced existing routines.

”This indicates that technology alone is not enough to achieve a well functioning electronic information system; organisational aspects must be taken into account,” say the researchers.

New reward systems may be needed to gain acceptance for new ways of working, they say.