Monday, April 19, 2010

Doctors, hospitals slow to make “meaningful use” of electronic health records

Physicians have been slow to adopt the “meaningful use” of electronic health records required for incentives.

Despite billions of dollars in incentives for doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic heath records, researchers have found that actual, authentic and effective use of the records remains in its infancy. While a significant number of hospitals and doctors have made the upfront investment in electronic health records, they have been slower to use them in a way that translates into greater efficiency and improved health outcomes, the study’s authors found. For example, researchers found that the use of electronic health records to date have not led to improvements in patient mortality, surgical complications, nor length of stay and costs.

"We are still in the early days of electronic health record adoption, and there's little evidence for how best to implement the technology to make the greatest gains," study leader Catherine DesRoches, of the Mongan Institute, said in a statement. "Hospitals may not see the benefit of these systems until they are fully implemented, or it may take many years for benefits to become apparent." The study was published in the April issue of the journal Health Affairs.

The researchers analyzed data collected from 3,000 hospitals that responded to a 2008 survey of acute care hospitals belonging to the American Hospital Association. The health care institutions were asked whether they had put computerized systems in place for different functions, including medication orders, lab reports, specimen tracking and discharge summaries. What they found was that even among health care providers and facilities that invested in electronic health record software, not all were using their systems well.

Public health officials need to pay attention to this survey. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act authorized approximately $30 billion in grants and incentives to support electronic health record adoption. Health care providers could receive bonuses through Medicare and Medicaid if they demonstrate "meaningful use" of electronic health records. Public health officials then had to define what "meaningful use" constituted, as they have begun to do.

But they’ll have to do more to get doctors and hospitals to really use the electronic health records. In addition to letting doctors know what meaningful use of the records is, public health officials may have to offer training. It does little good to offer incentives if those incentives aren’t translating into greater efficiencies and greater training. What suggestions do you have?

Photo Credit: npslibrarian

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