June 18, 2010
This week's health IT news brought both an air of optimism and a sobering outlook on electronic medical record (EMR) adoption.
On Tuesday, Newt Gingrich threw his support behind EMRs, describing the technology as "a system which lowers the total cost to a point where three years from now doctors are going to say to each other 'you'd be irrational not to be doing this.'"
Speaking in Washington D.C. at the launch of GE Healthcare's Centricity Advance, a Software as a Service (SaaS) EMR solution for small physician practices, Gingrich, who is founder of the Center for Health Transformation and former Speaker of the House, said the healthcare industry's adoption of EMRs is now at "the breaking point." He also said that as tough economic times continue, doctors, by adopting EMRs, can realize greater cost and operational efficiencies.
According to Gingrich, what doctors want to do is "have a very sophisticated, very accurate electronic system which enables you to access the data flow, and enables you to make sure that you're meeting the various requirements in a way that maximizes your income and minimizes lost time and I think this is going to become even more important as we move into a more complex government centric system," said Gingrich.
The enthusiasm displayed by Gingrich for EMR adoption, however, was somewhat dampened on Thursday when a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll revealed that, despite years of hype around EMR adoption, less than one in 10 American adults now utilize EMRs or turn to e-mail to contact their doctor.
The online poll, which questioned 2,035 adults June 8-10, also showed that despite the Obama administration's campaign to expand the use of health IT, including the authorization of $19 billion in stimulus funding over several years to speed doctors' and hospitals' move toward electronic records, public attitudes toward EMRs haven't budged much over the past few years.
The survey indicated that many Americans don't have a clue as to whether their doctors use EMRs, with nearly half of respondents saying they weren't even sure if their physician offered these technologies. A little more than a quarter (28%) of those polled thought their doctor used EMRs, and 42% said they didn't know if their primary care physician had the technology. "The general public only has a vague idea, only a very limited understanding, of what all this is about," Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll, a service of Harris Interactive, said in a statement.
The poll also showed that patients' use of various electronic functions remains very low. Only 9% can communicate with their doctors by e-mail, up from 4% in 2006. Eight percent can schedule a doctor's visit online, up from 3%, and 8% can get diagnostic test results by e-mail, up from 2% in 2006. The push to move away from a paper-based system to digital records seem to be of little consequence to many Americans who currently don't seem to be able to grasp the benefits of having their medical information digitized vs. stored in file folders at multiple doctors' offices, Taylor said.
"The policy wonks talk very persuasively about all of the improvements in quality that come from having a complete electronic medical record," Taylor observed, but "that case has not really been made effectively to the public."
Nevertheless, the survey provided some ray of hope that people will warm to EMR systems eventually. This year, as in 2009, 78% of adults indicated that they "strongly" or "somewhat" agree that doctors should have access to their electronic medical records. In 2007, 80% were in agreement on physicians' access to those records.
Most of those polled also said they would like their doctors to access their medical records with the click of a mouse. On the other hand, only 30% believe their insurer should have that same access.
The survey also revealed regional differences, with more people in the West (35%) saying their primary-care doctor uses an EMR than in other regions.
But with less than a tenth of American adults using EMRs, "the numbers are still very small," said Taylor, suggesting that the electronic "revolution" in healthcare is still nascent. But the numbers in some cases have doubled, and he expects that trend to accelerate over time.
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