Most hospitals have electronic health record systems, but that doesn't mean every hospital can exchange patient medical records with every other healthcare provider, two data reports from the federal government conclude.
On the plus side, adoption of EHRs by the U.S. hospital community is nearly complete, according to a report by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The ONC “data brief” is based on a supplement to the 2015 edition of an annual survey by the American Hospital Association.
It showed that 96% of hospitals have an EHR federally tested and certified for the government's incentive program. That's up from 71.9% in 2011, the first year of incentives.
Through April, the program has paid out $34.5 billion to 4,924 hospitals and 493,612 physicians and other eligible professionals, the latest CMS data shows.
In 2009, the year the federal economic stimulus law that created the EHR program passed, just 12.2% of hospitals had even a “basic” EHR, the data brief reported.
But another key goal of the law was to ensure that EHRs were “interoperable,” meaning they could make patient information available where it's needed to improve patient safety, quality of care and to reduce healthcare costs.
A second ONC data brief, also based on the AHA survey, shows interoperability is a mixed bag.
The exchange of basic patient data between those providers blessed with EHR incentive payments is nearly on par with EHR adoption rates, the federal report shows. In 2015, 82% of hospitals exchanged laboratory results, radiology reports, clinical care summaries or medication lists with other hospitals or ambulatory care providers outside their own organizations. That's up from 45% in 2009.
But access to information doesn't always mean more informed or efficient patient care, in part because the federal EHR program excluded many other healthcare delivery organizations, such as nursing homes and behavioral health organizations.
Only 18% of those surveyed indicated their hospital clinicians often use patient information received electronically from outside providers or other sources, another 35% use such information “sometimes.” Another 20% use it “rarely”; 16% “never” do and 11% responded that the don't know.
The biggest barrier to interoperability, chosen by 53% of survey respondents, is that shared information is not available to clinicians in their EHRs, that is, to view and use the information, clinicians must move out of their regular workflows to receive and view it. Difficulty integrating the exchanged information in an EHR ranked second, cited by 45% of respondents.