It’s tough to get an accurate picture of EMR (electronic medical record) adoption by office-based physicians. That’s important information for clinical laboratories because they must often provide an electronic gateway interface with physicians’ EMR systems for laboratory test ordering and results reporting.

Now comes help for clinical laboratories and pathology groups seeking to understand the pace of EMR adoption by physicians. This summer, The Institute for Health Policy published the results of a six-month study on the use of electronic health records (EHRs) in physicians’ offices in the New England Journal of Medicine. “This is the best data that there has ever been on the adoption of electronic health records by physicians,” said William Jessee, M.D., the physician president and chief executive officer of the Medical Group Management Association.

According to the abstract of the NEJM article, 4% of physicians reported having an extensive, fully-functional electronic-records system, and 13% reported having a basic system. Another finding was that the physicians most likely to be currently using EMRs were: 1) primary care physicians; 2) those physicians practicing in large groups, in hospitals or medical centers; and, 3) physicians practicing in the western region of the United States. Physicians reported positive effects of these systems on several dimensions of quality of care, as well as high levels of satisfaction in how their system performed. Financial barriers were viewed as having the greatest effect on decisions about the adoption of electronic health records.

The survey was conducted between September 2007 and March 2008 at the 902-bed Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; the Harvard School of Public Health; George Washington University; and RTI International, working under a contract with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS and grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Despite the fact that the survey revealed that 83% of physicians don’t have an EHR, the NEJM authors pointed out some good news. They noted that 16% of physicians with no EHR responded that their medical practice had purchased an EHR at the time of the survey, but it had yet to be implemented. Another 26 % of surveyed physicians said their practice was planning on implementing an EMR system in the next two years.

The conclusions of the report were that “Physicians who use electronic health records believe such systems improve the quality of care and are generally satisfied with the systems. However, as of early 2008, electronic systems had been adopted by only a small minority of U.S. physicians, who may differ from later adopters of these systems.”

The pace and nature of physician adoption and use of EHRs are important issues for medical laboratories and pathology labs. Lab managers and pathologists will want to be ahead of physician EHR adoption curve by preparing their laboratory information system (LIS) to interface with these EHRS to accept electronic test orders and directly download lab test results into the physician’s HER system.

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