Vital Signs Blog

EHR costs outweigh financial benefits, doctors say

Physicians believe electronic health records can improve patient outcomes but feel that EHR costs outweigh any financial benefits they might have, according to the fourth annual Athenahealth Physician Sentiment Index.

The survey also found that doctors see receiving third-party payments as increasingly complex but are getting less frustrated with the process. Similarly, physicians doubt government involvement can have a positive impact on healthcare, “but the passion surrounding it seems to have lessened,” according to the survey.

Watertown, Mass.-based Athenahealth surveyed 1,200 users of its Epocrates electronic decision-support and clinical workflow products in March 2013. Among respondents, 47% were in independent practice, 70% were specialists and 30% were primary-care doctors.

Only 9% expressed optimism about the future viability of independent practice. Similarly, only 17% saw the “quality of medicine” improving in five years; 24% expected it to remain unchanged; and 59% expected quality to decline.

Seventy-six percent of respondents said they work at a practice using an EHR, but only 52% said they had an active role in the purchase of the system. Despite this, they still have a positive opinion about EHRs. This includes 31% with a very favorable opinion; 38% with a somewhat favorable opinion; 14% are neutral; 12%, somewhat unfavorable; and 6%, very unfavorable. Respondents were split on the cost benefits of EHRs, with 51% saying the financial benefits don't outweigh the costs and 55% saying the patient-care benefits outweigh the costs.

In regard to payers, 41% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement that insurers' payment processes had become increasingly burdensome and complex, with 38% agreeing and 18% neither agreeing nor disagreeing. For Medicare, 33% strongly agreed its payment process was becoming increasingly burdensome and complex; 32% agreed; and 31% were neutral. For Medicaid, 35% strongly agreed, 30% agreed, and 31% were neutral.

While only a minority of respondents agreed that government involvement can lower costs and improve outcomes, this year more were in the pro-government camp than were in it last year. Of those surveyed in 2013, 6% strongly agreed that government involvement could lower costs; 32% agreed; 18% were neutral or undecided; 24% disagreed; and 31% strongly disagreed. Last year, only 5% said they agreed that government could lower costs; 20% agreed; 14% neither agreed nor disagreed; 27% disagreed; and 35% strongly disagreed.

This year, 5% strongly agreed that government involvement could improve outcomes; 29% agreed; 24% were neutral or undecided; 28% disagreed; and 25% strongly disagreed. In comparison, in 2012, only 4% strongly agreed that government involvement could improve outcomes; 16% agreed; 19% neither agreed nor disagreed; 29% disagreed; and 32% strongly disagreed.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks


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