Health IT use progressing in Massachusetts but difficulties remain

Roughly 80% of Massachusetts' healthcare facilities and clinician practices are using electronic health records, a report (PDF) from the state's eHealth Institute finds, but many providers and types of services lag behind.

Among specialties trailing the overall adoption rate are behavioral health practices, with a 55% adoption rate, and dental practices, with a 60% adoption rate. But 8% of surveyed practices overall said they expected to adopt EHRs in the next year.

Health facilities and providers are using EHRs for a wide range of functionalities. For example, 81% of health professionals use the record for quality reporting and reconciling medication, and 64% use it for clinical decision-support rules.

Three distinct groups were surveyed—507 practice managers, 308 healthcare providers and 807 consumers—between November 2013 and February 2014 to determine the penetration of electronic health data use in the state.

Electronic communication was particularly worrisome for providers, with one behavioral-health provider expressing annoyance at an overwhelming number of email messages, for example.

“I do not want to have requests flying at me from all directions,” the anonymously surveyed provider said, “particularly at the clinic setting, where my time is fully booked, and further requests would eat up what should be lunch and break times, or going home at the end of the day.”

Survey leaders found weaker participation in health information exchanges, with only 26% of provider practices sharing health information electronically. An additional 16% said they expect to exchange information online in the coming year. Primary-care practices are the health information-technology leaders, with 30% sharing information. Lagging specialties include dental practices, with a 7% information-exchange participation rate, and skilled-nursing facilities, with an 8% information-exchange rate.

As with EHRs, the tasks for which the information exchanges are being used varied greatly, with 45% of providers using electronic laboratory radiology or pathology ordering, and 28% using the exchanges for transitions of care.

Many respondents also said they could use help and support working with electronic data. Roughly 31% of healthcare practices surveyed were interested in training or technical assistance for EHRs, and 23% of practices not using HIEs wanted technical assistance for their adoption.

Some expressed skepticism overall.

“I see HIE as a daunting task,” one provider surveyed by the eHealth Institute said. “Trying to tie together disparate EMR systems to get a meaningful flow of information to allow for the realization of the benefits listed above seems to me to be many years away. I guess I'll believe it when I see it.”

Follow Darius Tahir on Twitter: @dariustahir



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