U.S. healthcare system reaches important milestone – 50% of eligible providers are using EHRs meaningfully.


Wall Street Journal |U.S. NEWS | May 22, 2013, 12:03 a.m. ET

Electronic Health Data Gaining Favor By LOUISE RADNOFSKY


More than half of U.S. doctors have switched to electronic health records and are using them to manage patients’ basic medical information and prescriptions, according to federal data set to be released Wednesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services says it has reached a tipping point as it seeks to steer medical providers away from paper records. Advocates for electronic health records say they have the potential to make medical care safer and more efficient. In 2015, the federal government will start penalizing providers that haven’t begun using electronic health records in reimbursements they get for treating patients.

But some doctors have been cautious about changing long-standing practice, saying that typing into a computer while talking with patients requires more attention than taking notes by hand. Others are concerned that electronic systems don’t allow for enough family history or fail to highlight the important parts of a patient’s medical record. Some critics also cite privacy concerns.

Overall, some 291,325 doctors and other providers—or around 55% of the office-based providers eligible for federal incentives in exchange for adopting electronic records and using them at a set level—have received payments, the department said. Some 3,880 hospitals have also made the change. Doctors have been paid about $5.9 billion to date for participating in an incentive program established under the 2009 economic-stimulus law. An additional $8.7 billion has gone to hospitals, according to HHS data.

To get the funds, providers must have set up electronic systems that contain patients’ records, with details such as blood pressure, weight, height and medications. They also must write prescriptions electronically. The new systems are also designed to make some recommendations to providers when they enter orders into them, such as the potential for an allergic reaction to a drug.

Even medical practices that qualify for the federal payments may still use paper for some tasks, such as taking information from patients when they come for appointments. Some doctors have complained that their system gives them unnecessary warning alerts.

“Please, be patient with your physician as they transition to this,” said Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health information technology at HHS. “The ‘under construction, pardon our appearance’ sign—that’s the phase we’re in.”

Hospitals and doctors that have hit the current standard for using electronic records are being encouraged to move to a higher stage at which they can share information with other doctors and send patients electronic reminders or summaries of their visits.

David Blumenthal, who preceded Dr. Mostashari as national coordinator at HHS, said the agency had made a conscious decision not to push providers too far too quickly.

“It’s a matter of getting people on the escalator and moving them steadily up to higher and more demanding uses. You can’t get from the bottom of the escalator to the top in one step; you have to take them along for the ride,” he said. Dr. Blumenthal said he expected most of the remaining providers to come on board within five years.


—Melinda Beck contributed to this article.

Write to Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky@wsj.com


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