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    U.S. Doctors Lagging on Electronic Medical Records Adoption

    By Jennifer Huddleston, staff writer      

    In today’s world, almost everything we read, watch or buy is available electronically, yet for most physicians in the U.S., medical records are still kept by hand. A recent study of 2,758 doctors nationwide revealed that only 17 percent of doctors have adopted electronic medical records (EMR) systems.
    [1] The survey results are expected to be published in the July 3 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

    Of those physicians who have adopted EMR systems, the benefits they’ve seen have been staggering:

    • 82 percent said the system improved the quality of clinical decisions.
    • 86 percent said it helped avoid medication errors.
    • 85 percent reported improvements in delivering preventative care. [2]

    Despite these positive findings, widespread adoption remains slow, a finding supported by the fact that 40 percent of physicians who reported not having an operational EMR system said they had purchased one but had not started to use it, or they planned to buy one. [3]

    A fully functional EMR system includes the patient’s complete medical records, clinical notes from past visits, medication lists, reminders about when tests are needed and the ability to order prescriptions, lab tests and radiology tests as well as view lab results, X-rays, MRIs and other scans. These robust systems also alert physicians about improper prescriptions or abnormal lab test results.
    [4] Just 4 percent of physicians who have adopted an EMR have a fully functional system. [5]

    With all these features, it’s no wonder that experts say EMR systems are vital to improving care, reducing errors and constraining U.S. healthcare system costs.
    [6] Medicare and private insurance companies are pushing the adoption of EMR systems as a means of monitoring quality of care, which will then be a significant factor in reimbursement levels. [7] In addition, private and government insurers and hospitals can save money through reduced paper usage, administration expenses and unnecessary lab tests. [8]

    With fully functional EMR systems, patients are able to send their medical records directly to other doctors or specialists, eliminating the administrative burden of copying, faxing and mailing.
    [9] Furthermore, EMRs are more secure than handwritten records due to an audit trail that shows who has accessed the records. [10]

    Along with pressure from insurance companies, patients and new physicians trained with EMR systems are also demanding widespread adoption.
    [11] Despite these pressures, many physicians have decided against EMR systems for various reasons.

    For many doctors in the U.S., the cost of an EMR system, coupled with worries about its return on investment, is enough to dissuade them from adopting one in their practice. The survey findings echo these concerns, with 66 percent of doctors without EMR systems reporting that they are too expensive.
    [12]

    The direct costs of EMR software licenses, computers and a server to back up data can amount to more than $30,000 per doctor, and indirect costs of training staff and maintaining the system can cost thousands more, according to Jim King, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
    [13] As doctors are primarily responsible for the initial investment, many simply feel the cost is not worth the potential risks and rewards. [14]

    Still others worry that their system will become obsolete or will suffer from technological mishaps, such as the system failing while they deal with a waiting room full of patients whose records they can’t access.
    [15]

    The survey also revealed that 54 percent of the doctors without an EMR system said they could not find one that met their needs. These physicians are not satisfied with existing systems that are designed for larger organizations rather than smaller practices,
    [16] a theory confirmed by the study’s finding that doctors in the western region of the U.S., primary care physicians and physicians with large practices or in hospitals or medical centers were more likely to have EMR systems. [17]

    As more physicians across the U.S. implement EMR systems in the future, the demands of patients, insurance companies and a new generation of physicians will force the remaining non-users to adopt as well.


    [1]  Doctors Slow to Embrace Electronic Medical Records. HealthDay. June 18, 2008.

    [2] Lohr, Steve. Most Doctors Aren’t Using Electronic Health Records. The New York Times. June 19, 2008.

    [3]  Doctors Slow to Embrace Electronic Medical Records. HealthDay. June 18, 2008.

    [4]  Ibid.

    [5]  Electronic Medical Records See Slow Adoption by U.S. Doctors. FOX Business. June 19, 2008.

    [6] Lohr, Steve. Most Doctors Aren’t Using Electronic Health Records. The New York Times. June 19, 2008.

    [7]  Doctors Slow to Embrace Electronic Medical Records. HealthDay. June 18, 2008.

    [8] Lohr, Steve. Most Doctors Aren’t Using Electronic Health Records. The New York Times. June 19, 2008.

    [9]  Doctors Slow to Embrace Electronic Medical Records. HealthDay. June 18, 2008.

    [10]  Electronic Medical Records See Slow Adoption by U.S. Doctors. FOX Business. June 19, 2008.

    [11]  Doctors Slow to Embrace Electronic Medical Records. HealthDay. June 18, 2008.

    [12]  Electronic Medical Records See Slow Adoption by U.S. Doctors. FOX Business. June 19, 2008.

    [13]  Ibid.

    [14] Lohr, Steve. Most Doctors Aren’t Using Electronic Health Records. The New York Times. June 19, 2008.

    [15]  Doctors Slow to Embrace Electronic Medical Records. HealthDay. June 18, 2008.

    [16] Lohr, Steve. Most Doctors Aren’t Using Electronic Health Records. The New York Times. June 19, 2008.

    [17]  Doctors Slow to Embrace Electronic Medical Records. HealthDay. June 18, 2008.



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