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11/19/2010
11:23 AM
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Doctors Shun EHRs For Patient Referrals

Yet, medical providers are more satisfied when they use electronic health records to exchange clinical information with specialists, finds Practice Fusion study.

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A survey of 183 physicians reveals that only 16% said they electronically send patient records when referring patients to another provider. The findings come from a study conducted by Growth Survey Research on behalf of electronic health record (EHR) provider Practice Fusion.

The new data suggests that physicians are still in the early stages of using computerized methods to exchange patient records when referring patients to other physicians. In fact, the majority of doctors said they use a combination of phone calls, office forms, faxes, and relying on patients to follow up with other physicians.

The study revealed that 52% of the physicians questioned said they call the other provider to give a patient's referral information rather than exchanging details of the patient's medical history electronically. Fifty-one percent said they give referral information to the patient and ask the patient to make the appointment, and another 36% said they use referral forms supplied by their medical group or individual practice association.

Gaps in the exchange of patient information after the referral are problematic and can lead to increased healthcare costs due to duplication of services. Providers issuing referrals often do not receive feedback about the patient's visit with a specialist, Practice Fusion executives said.

"Poor communication between medical providers can have deadly results for patients," Ryan Howard, CEO of Practice Fusion, said in a statement. "Missing patient information contributes to the 195,000 deaths from preventable medical errors each year in the U.S. Electronic health records have the potential to make the referral process much more streamlined."

When making referrals, 32% of practices say they are more likely to fax a few pages of patient records to the other provider. These medical records include information pertaining to the specialist, chart notes, lab results, image results, a history of physical examinations, and a patient's chief complaints. On average, five pages of information are faxed.

Offices that are using an electronic referral generation process and faxing clinical information are significantly more likely to say that they are satisfied with their office's referral method than those who telephone other providers. The significance of this, the report concluded, is that if offices were to use computerized systems to exchange information when referring patients to other providers, they would see an increase in satisfaction.

The Practice Fusion physician referral study was conducted by email survey in September 2010. Among the 183 doctors participating in the survey, 74% were primary care/family practitioners, 22% were pediatricians, and 4% were obstetrician/gynecologists.

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