Healthcare Business News

Researchers: More doctors using more-sophisticated EHRs

By Joseph Conn
Posted: December 12, 2012 - 11:00 am ET

Three federal researchers Wednesday shone a brighter light on last week's already positive assessment of national trends in electronic health-record system adoption.

A growing number of office-based physicians are using more-robust EHRs that have higher-level functions needed to help the doctors qualify for federal EHR incentive payments and assist them in providing better, safer care for patients, the researchers reported.

The trio of researchers, all with the Office of Economic Analysis, Evaluation and Modeling at HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, dug deeper into data from the annual national EHR survey conducted earlier this year by the National Center for Health Statistics. Their eight-page brief, "Physician Adoption of Electronic Health Record Technology to Meet Meaningful Use Objectives: 2009-2012," is posted on the ONC's website.

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Nearly three-quarters—73%—of physicians surveyed said their EHRs could write prescriptions electronically, while 68% could keep a list of a patient's medication allergies.

Two other EHR functions necessary under meaningful-use requirements—the ability to provide patients with a copy of a clinical summary and the capacity to aid a clinician with at least one clinical decision-support rule—were available in 56% and 50% of the EHRs of physicians surveyed, respectively.

EHR capabilities have expanded dramatically since 2009, when the federal EHR incentive payment program was created, according to ONC researchers. E-prescribing, for example, was a function in just a third of EHRs in 2009. By 2012, 73% of physicians surveyed indicated their systems were capable of e-prescribing.

The NCHS' survey report, released last week, also noted steady increases in the adoption of three categories of EHR systems.

Physicians taking the survey were asked if they used any EHR system at all; 72% of office-based physicians said they did. But when asked whether their system had specific quality or safety improvement functions, only 40% reported their EHR had enough functions to constitute what NCHS labeled as a "basic" EHR, while only 23.5% reported using one that had enough horsepower to be considered a "fully functional" EHR.

Considering that all 15 of the meaningful-use core objectives are scored on an all-or-nothing basis, if a provider's EHR is incapable of achieving even one core criterion, that provider will not qualify for a Medicare EHR incentive program payment. Put another way, the 27% of physicians using a system that doesn't offer e-prescribing can't qualify for an EHR incentive payment, regardless of what other functions their EHR offers.

The release of the latest research brief was timed to coincide with ONC's daylong annual meeting, taking place Wednesday in Washington.

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