Only one in four physicians, or 24.9%, currently uses some sort of electronic health record (EHR) under the loosest possible definition of the term. That’s the finding in a recent study entitled Health Information Technology in the United States: The Information Base for Progress performed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the federal government’s health information technology office. Of greater interest, only about 10% of physicians use a “fully operational” system, or a system that collects patient information, shows test results, and allows providers to enter medical orders and prescriptions.

The report’s findings are useful for laboratory administrators and pathologists because they demonstrate that implementation and use of EHRs by office-based physicians remains in its early stages. That gives laboratories and pathology group practices more time to craft an effective EHR strategy

We are pitifully behind where we should be,” said David Bumenthal, a co-author of the report. His words have certainly impacted the medical community. Google “EHR Adoption Pitifully Behind” , and you will discover that Bumenthal’s comment has been picked up by numerous media outlets. Most everyone finds this study newsworthy and discouraging. The government realizes that, with doctors continuing to use EHRs at their current rate, they will not hit President Bush’s goal to ensure that most Americans have their medical information collected, stored, and organized electronically by 2014. Healthcare-savvy patients will also be frustrated to know that doctors are so slow to adopt EHRs, as they certainly realize that electronic medical records lead to fewer handwriting errors and fewer resulting medical diagnosis and prescription errors.

Why do EHR adoption rates by physicians remain low? The study hypothesizes that financial, technical, and legal barriers are to blame. Furthermore, there is no standard definition of what constitutions an EHR. Modern Healthcare Magazine quotes Providence Health System doctor Dick Gibson as saying that “Most docs who do it [use EHRs] say they do it because it’s the right thing to do. We know that the patient gets most of the benefits, the health plans get the rest, and the doctor is the one who has to pay for it.”

Lab directors and pathologists should keep in mind that this report on EHR adoption fails to make a key point: The larger the physician group, the more likely it is to have already implemented an effective EHR or EMR (electronic medical records) system. Thus, it is these physician groups and clinics which are larger in size – and important laboratory customers – that are first to go electronic with their medical records. To build and maintain competitive advantage, progressive laboratories and pathology group practices should already have a strategy and a solution that allows their laboratory to interface with the physicians’ EHR system for electronic test orders and lab test reporting.

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