Notoriously slow to shake the status quo, medical groups of all sizes now seem more inclined to accept the inevitable need for a costly investment in electronic health records.
Officials with the Medical Group Management Association, a longtime advocate of using information technology to cut costs and improve care, say about 28% of its members taking part in a recent survey reported having an electronic health record. The survey, which is a random sampling of MGMA members, underscores anecdotal evidence that medical groups are shedding their resistance to IT and overcoming historic barriers like high costs and a reluctance by physicians to change old habits.
The figure is more than three times the percentage of medical groups that reported using electronic health records in 2001 and 2002, the last years in which the Englewood, Colo.-based association surveyed its members on the topic.
"That's a big, big jump in just a couple of years," said William Jessee, MGMA president and chief executive officer. "There are caveats to the survey. People who responded are probably more likely to have (electronic health records), but it looks to me like a very significant uptick."
Despite key hurdles, including a confusing array of products and vendors, electronic health records are destined to be an essential part of the nation's healthcare landscape, said Jessee, who released the survey's results at the MGMA's annual meeting last week in San Francisco.
The survey of 560 medical groups was released just a week or so after a report on IT use by the Washington-based Center for Studying Health System Change, which provided a less timely sampling but more pessimistic results. The HSC study found that the majority of America's physicians do not even possess the technology to perform such basic functions as writing electronic prescriptions. That survey, conducted in 2001, discovered that less than 25% of U.S. physicians were able to generate treatment reminders for use during patient visits, and only about 10% could write electronic prescriptions.
But Jessee said the MGMA's surveys show that much has changed in just the last two years. The group's most recent survey, conducted under contract with the federally funded Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, indicates that 96% of the groups reported having the capacity for electronic billing and claims submission, and that about 70% could schedule patient appointments electronically. About 20%, twice the percentage in the HSC's survey, were able to generate electronic prescriptions, the MGMA survey said.
Also at the annual meeting, Thomas Peterson, executive director of Idaho Emergency Physicians, Boise, was named MGMA board chairman. He succeeds Bergitta Smith, assistant executive director of education, meetings and research at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in Arlington Heights, Ill., who remains on the board as immediate past chair and a member of the Executive Committee.