EHR Adoption by Physicians Hit 55% in 2011, CDC Says

July 18, 2012

July 18, 2012 — Physician adoption of the electronic health record (EHR) may be at — or even past — the proverbial tipping point, or so suggests a government study released yesterday that is a litany of progress.

In 2011, 55% of physicians reported having adopted an EHR, and of those, 85% said they were either somewhat or very satisfied with the technology, according to the report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Roughly 3 in 4 physicians using EHRs said the software enhanced overall patient care. And 71% of digital physicians would buy their EHR program again.

The CDC findings also suggest that the federal government has been successful in spurring adoption of EHR systems that meet its criteria for high-quality care. Seventy-seven percent of EHR users said their systems met federal "meaningful use" requirements under the economic stimulus legislation passed by Congress in 2009. Physicians who demonstrate meaningful use of EHRs are entitled to bonuses from Medicare or Medicaid.

The adoption of EHR systems looks to snowball even more: Of physicians who were not charting patient visits on a screen in 2011, 48% said they had just bought an EHR system or intended to. Only about one third of nonadopters said they were not going to buy the software in the next 12 months; the rest were undecided.

Chart Review in the Coffee Shop?

The CDC report drilled down into how EHRs were improving patient care. The benefit most touted by EHR users — 74% of them — is the ability to access patient charts remotely, such as from a kitchen table or coffee shop. Other benefits high on the list are alerts to critical lab values (50%) and potential medical medication errors (41%), as well as reminders to provide preventive care (39%) and heed clinical guidelines (37%).

Four in 10 EHRs users said they prescribed more medications listed on health plan formularies, and 3 in 10 said they ordered fewer lab tests because of the availability of results from previous tests.

Only 25% of physicians with EHRs reported that their systems facilitated direct communication with patients.

4 in 10 EHR Users Have Web-Based Systems

There were few surprises in the survey's statistical portrait of who exactly is using EHR systems. Physicians younger than 50 years were more likely to field an EHR than those aged 50 years and older; their adoption rates were 64% and 49%, respectively. Adoption also was higher among primary care physicians (58%) than those in a surgical (48%) or medical (55%) specialty, and among those who work in practices owned by an academic medical center (70%) or a health maintenance organization (100%) than in practices owned by physicians themselves (50%).

Practice size also is a factor. Only 29% of solo physicians reported using an EHR in 2011 compared with 60% of physicians in groups of 2, 62% in groups of 3 to 10, and 86% in groups with 11 or more physicians.

What may come as a surprise, however, was the widespread reliance on Web-based EHR systems, which was reported by 41% of EHR users. In a Web-based system, the CDC report stated, a physician accesses the software and patient data through the Internet. In contrast, 59% of EHR users had "stand-alone" systems, meaning the software and patient data resided in an on-site computer.

The CDC data on EHR adoption come from a survey conducted by the agency's National Center for Health Statistics. Almost 3200 office-based physicians completed the survey.

A copy of the CDC report is available on the agency's Web site.

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