4 percent of U.S. doctors use EHRs, new study finds

A milestone study of the adoption of health information technology has produced findings that one of the study’s authors calls troubling and the other calls very sobering.

The survey of 2,758 U.S. doctors, sponsored by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), found that only 4 percent had a fully functional electronic health record system. Another 13 percent had a basic or partially functional EHR system.

A 2006 study, also sponsored by ONC, found that as many as 9 percent of doctors had fully functional EHR systems. However, Dr. Karen Bell, director of ONC’s Office of Health IT Adoption, said the survey parameters were different.

“There is an increase,” Bell said at a press conference to discuss the results, which were reported today in an online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The earlier survey, undertaken by the same team, found that 24 percent of doctors had some sort of computerized record system, but the question allowed them to count billing systems and other kinds of systems not directly related to health care.

Dr. David Blumenthal, director of the Institute of Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and a co-author of the study, said, “We need to get moving a lot faster than we have been if we are going to take full advantage of this technology and realize its promise for medicine."

His colleague, Massachusetts General researcher Catherine DesRoches, said she found reason for hope in the findings. Forty-two percent of the doctors surveyed said their practice had bought an EHR system but had not yet implemented it or they were planning to buy one in the next two years.

“Physicians who use these systems like them,” she said, and they reported that the technology supported better patient care.

But, DesRoches said, doctors are uncertain whether they will get a financial return on their investment in EHRs, and they are fearful of new legal liabilities that could arise. Cost, she said, is the No. 1 barrier to doctors’ adoption of the technology.

Although ONC had touted the previous survey as a benchmark from which to measure future EHR adoption, Bell said the more recent one is “a true benchmark.” She said an agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will repeat the survey using the same survey instrument in the future.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded a nine-chapter report on health IT adoption, including the survey results, that will be available on its Web site July 2.

About the Author

Nancy Ferris is senior editor of Government Health IT.

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