More Physicians and Hospitals Are Using EHRs than Before

Significant increases in the use of electronic health records (EHRs) among the nation’s physicians and hospitals are detailed in two new studies published today by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

The studies, published in the journal Health Affairs, found that in 2013, almost eight in 10 (78 percent) office-based physicians reported they adopted some type of EHR system. About half of all physicians (48 percent) had an EHR system with advanced functionalities in 2013, a doubling of the adoption rate in 2009.

About six in 10 (59 percent) hospitals had adopted an EHR system with certain advanced functionalities in 2013, quadruple the percentage for 2010. Unlike the physician study, the hospital study does not have an equivalent, established measure of adoption of some type of EHR system; it only reports on adoption of EHRs with advanced functionalities.

“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,” said Karen DeSalvo, M.D., M.P.H., national coordinator for health information technology. “We look forward to working with our partners to ensure that people’s digital health information follows them across the care continuum so it will be there when it matters most.”

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Is Meaningful Use Helping or Hurting EHR Adoption?

What follows is a fascinating graphic from NueMD, which asks a simple, yet provocative question: Is meaningful use helping or hurting EHR adoption?

CMS launched the program to “reward healthcare practitioners for adopting electronic health records and increasing efficiency within their practice.” According to the graphic, and the research complied here, 2013 was a successful year by all accounts as far as EHR adoption is concerned. However, as pointed out by NueMD, attestation of meaningful use is slowing.

Particularly alarming are the figures from the small practice space, with 50 percent or so of these physicians groups implementing the technology, yet only 25 percent or so of this group attesting and receiving incentives for doing so.

Additionally, satisfaction with using EHR technology also has dramatically decreased for those who might be called technology champions while those who might be labeled as EHR “haters” have begun to hate the technology even more.

Finally, of those deciding to make the technology switch to a new system cite lack of system functionality as the primary reason for doing so. So, of the physicians that are not implementing the systems, are they simply deciding to absorb the financial penalties mandated by the feds? If that’s the case, what will the outcome of meaningful use be?

And, if efficiencies are not gained, as promised, are we really any closer to an improved healthcare system where physicians, especially those in small practices, actually get to spend time with the patients they desire to serve?

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Misleading EHR Headlines Reign (and Remain)

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Preventions’ National Center for Health Statistics survey of 2011 EHR adoption trends, released on July 17, use of EHRs is up to 55 percent of practicing physicians. That’s a 5 percent increase from 2010, also according to a CDC survey.

The survey of 3,180 physicians was funded by the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. More than 55 percent of all physicians use and EHR (and more than 86 percent of physicians in practices with 11 or more physicians use an EHR). Physicians also value their current EHRs more compared to past iterations of the systems and, finally, respondents said the care they provide to patients is better than in the past because of the EHRs.

Problem: there’s no data in the survey to support this final claim.

Obviously, EHRs are intended to improve care, whether at the individual level or at the practice level. However, physicians accessing patient data through the records should be tracked and made quantifiable.

Practices using EHRs have the power to change lives for the better, manage care and ensure proper care is provided throughout a patient’s care plan. Practices can and should track how care initiatives have changed with the implementation of an electronic health record and how their patient populations’ health benefits.

Simply stating that patient care has improved when a practice uses an EHR is an immeasurable statement. Innovative practices find ways to track these outcomes whether it means there are fewer chronic conditions among their patients or that their patient populations’ life expectancy actually increased over a period of time (as can be measured and in some cases has been done).

The ONC needs to do more to encourage physicians to move beyond meaningful use stimulus, which is driving the increased use of EHRs. And while the data collected from surveys such as this are important, as I continue to say, they don’t tell the whole story of how technology can improve healthcare.

And throwaway statements indicating immeasurable “facts” does nothing more than generate misleading headlines.