Few US Physicians, Hospitals Utilizing Electronic Records

Russell Murdock

Nations Health. 2006;36(10) 


Despite calls for greater use of electronic health records, only 25 percent of US physicians are utilizing the method, according to an October report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report, which reviewed data from three dozen surveys conducted in the past decade, found that not enough physicians are opting to use electronic medical records, despite their benefits. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of the nation's physicians are using fully operational electronic records that collect patient information, display test results, allow providers to enter medical orders and prescriptions and aid in treatment.

Because of poor data, it is not known how many of the nation's 8,000 hospitals are using electronic medical records but the report estimated that 5 percent of hospitals used computerized physician order entry systems. Such systems, which are one type of electronic health record, help reduce errors and improve care.

Health leaders are calling for increased use of electronic records because they are more accurate, cut down on medical errors and can save money.

"We need a health care system that can deliver high-quality, efficient and effective health care, and electronic records are an important and necessary part of making that transformation," said APHA member John Lumpkin, MD, MPH, senior vice president and director of the health care group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, at a Washington, DC, news conference announcing the foundation's findings.

In 2004, President Bush called for all Americans to have electronic health care records by 2014. The need for such records became especially clear after Hurricane Katrina, which displaced millions of people, sometimes far from their medical providers.

Some privacy advocates oppose electronic health records due to concerns about privacy, but members of the committee that drafted the report disagree with the assertion that electronic health records are any less secure than traditional health records.

Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH, assistant professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, said at the news conference that the public overestimates the security of personal information in the current system. He also said he believes the technology necessary to protect and secure electronic records is already available.

"You can walk into a hospital with a white coat, go to the medical records room and pull out somebody's chart relatively easily," said Jha, who co-wrote the report. "It's very hard to do that with electronic records that are designed well."

He also said that where a doctor practices has a great impact on whether the doctor uses electronic health records. Jha said in all the studies he analyzed, solo practitioners and practitioners with just one partner were significantly less likely to use electronic health records than were those who worked in a large hospital setting. He said this is significant because half of all practitioners either work alone or with just one other partner.

One of the major purposes of the report was to summarize the best information the committee could find on disparities, said APHA member David Blumenthal, MD, MPP, who also helped write the report. Blumenthal, director at the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the committee did not have the data required to know much about what variables lead to doctors or hospitals being more or less likely to use electronic health records. He said the data the group did have, however, suggested that physicians in the West are more likely to have access to electronic health records than are physicians in other regions of the country.

"There is sort of a warning signal right there that we need to look carefully going forward at whether the benefits of this technology will be available equally to our diverse population," Blumenthal said.

For more information on the report, "Health Information Technology in the United States: The Information Base for Progress," visit www.rwjf.org. For more news from The Nation's Health, visit www.thenationshealth.org.


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