It’s big news when the nation’s largest medical specialty organization shifts its policy on physician use of electronic medical record (EMR) systems and e-health services. The American College of Physicians (ACP), in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, issued a new position paper.

ACP says that physicians, patients, technology companies, and policymakers must collaborate to foster e-health activities and electronic communication among physicians and patients. ACP further states that e-health activities-including remote monitoring of patients, personal and electronic health records, and patients seeking health information on-line-have the potential to transform health care in the United States!

“E-health activities have great potential to improve the quality of patient care, reduce medical errors, increase efficiency and access to care, and achieve substantial cost savings,” said ACP President David C. Dale, MD, FACP. “Furthermore, e-health is a critical part of the patient-centered medical home model of care, which in coordination with the other components, is the future of the U.S. health care delivery system.”

The new positions adopted by the ACP are useful for those pathologists and laboratory directors tracking acceptance of new technologies by physicians. Laboratories that establish electronic links with their physician clients end to enjoy a more productive relationship with those physicians.

The ACP’s new position paper is significant for two more reasons. First, it is a statement by ACP that its 125,000 physician-members are ready to embrace and adopt these new technologies. That’s a change from past years, when healthcare lagged other industries in its adoption of information systems and new technology. Second, physicians have been criticized for their collective reticence to adopt electronic medical record systems. The ACP’s position paper specifically calls for physicians and other stakeholders to recognize the potential that information technology holds for transforming healthcare.

“A recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates electronic medical record (EMR) use in the ambulatory (physician) setting at 24% and in the inpatient (hospital) setting at 61%,” stated the ACP in its position paper. “According to a 2006 ACP member survey, adoption also varies by practice size; smaller practices (five or fewer physicians) have an adoption rate of 18%, while larger groups, (20 or more physicians) have an adoption rate of 58%. Those practices that have implemented EMRs may also include such services as online appointment self-scheduling and secure patient-physician messaging. This interaction between patients and their physicians through the use of electronic tools for health-related purposes has been broadly defined as e-health.”

In addition to citing the potential the IT holds for healthcare, the ACP position paper also acknowledges the barriers to more widespread adoption of information systems in healthcare. For physicians, the challenges of implementing e-health systems can be substantial in part because IT is expensive and the return on investment is not always certain. “For physicians, the financial costs of purchasing systems and incorporating e-health offerings can be considerable,” ACP said.

ACP also recommended investment in demonstration projects to assess how e-health activities can support the relatively new concept of the patient-centered medical home. A patient-centered medical home is an approach to providing comprehensive primary care for patients of all ages and medical conditions. Dark Daily has already alerted its clients and subscribers to the growing support behind the medical home concept (See Dark Daily, August 8, 2008, Doctors Promote “Medical Homes” as Way to Take Us Back to the Future ).

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