Only 10% of doctors using complete e-health record systems, surveys find

Surveys conducted in 2009 and 2010 show a marked increase in general use of EHRs, but fully-functional systems use remains low

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"On the other hand," Greenspun continued, "If I can share [radiological] images, pull data from other systems, write a prescription all from one screen ... and get valid prescription alerts and find out about public health threats, then the value is obvious."

The CDC said there has been an increasing trend in EHR use among office-based physicians from 2001 - when the first survey was conducted -- through the preliminary 2010 survey estimates.

Combined data from the surveys taken in 2009, for example (both mail survey and in-person surveys), showed that 48.3% of physicians reported using all or partial EHR systems in their office-based practices.

About 21.8% of physicians reported having systems that met the criteria of a basic system, and about 6.9% reported having systems that met the criteria of a fully functional system, a subset of a basic system.

The CDC's National Centre for Health Statistics (HCHS) received survey responses from 70% of 3,200 physicians surveyed in person and 2,000 surveyed through a mailing. In 2010, NCHS surveyed a sample of 10,301 physicians with the mail survey and followed up with telephone calls to non-respondents. In all, about 66% responded, it said.

Dr. John Halamka, CIO of CareGroup and the associate dean of Harvard Medical School, said that although the numbers are currently low, more has been done toward implementing EHRs this past year than in the last 20.

"I'm not sure [physicians] don't want to implement EHRs. Implementing technology is rarely about bits, bytes, software and hardware. It's 80% change management," Halamka said. "If you walk into paper-based practices and say I want to digitize records, it would accomplish nothing. It's about how the office should perform its work differently."

Beth Israel Hospital, part of CareGroup, was able to convert 80% of its 1,700 physicians over to a standardized EHR system that resides in a private, cloud-based data center. "I said 80% of the cost will be covered by me and you no longer have to do [data] backups," Halamka said. "Their costs were reduced, expertise was brought in to help them and their infrastructure resided in the cloud."

Halamka said he believes this year will be a tipping point for EHR adoption, due to the fact that "meaningful use" standards are now published, vendors are getting their products certified and physicians and hospitals taking advantage of government-sponsored regional extension centers to help them deploy EHR technology.

"Just look at Massachusetts. We're already at more than 50% adoption," he said.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and healthcare IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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