And, in fact, the exact percentage of health care organizations reporting a functional EMR system actually declined slightly from last years results, from 19 to 18 percent.
Still, most of the hospital IT executives surveyed (62 percent) reported that EMRs are the top IT application priority for their organization over the next two years. Thats a huge increase from last years response, when only 10 percent of the executives reported that EMRs were a top near-term priority. Another 17 percent responded this year that their organizations have no immediate plans to implement EMRs.
A fully functional EMR system, as defined in the study by HIMSS, consists of a completely paperless tracking of a patients lifetime health status. What it does not include, however, is portability or accessibility by multiple health care providers.
Sharing of EMRs, or EHRs (electronic health records) as the version that is most comprehensive and widely accessible by health care providers is referred to, remains their most elusive aspect.
"For EHRs to be truly portable and shareable, they must adopt a common vocabulary so that we can correctly translate and code existing clinical data for each patient," says John Quinn, a principal in Capgemini Health and a founding member of HL7 (Health Level Seven Inc.), an industry group dedicated to developing common technology standards.
Quinn goes on to note that "the goal is to achieve true semantic interoperability—the ability to both transmit clinical information between different systems and reuse that information in different contexts."
Despite the difficulties, over half of the hospital IT executives (53 percent) surveyed believe EMRs are a necessity because they increase patient safety and reduce medical errors.
More saw this as the top priority, even over upgrading security on IT systems to ensure HIPAA compliance, which 44 percent perceived as the most important task.
Three-quarters of the American public also believe that electronic medical records can improve the quality of care and lower health care costs. And about 62 percent think that EMRs can help to reduce medical errors, according to a recent online survey of 2,387 U.S. adults by Harris Interactive Inc.
As hospitals work to implement EMRs, small-group physician practices are facing even more substantial challenges. Another recent survey of electronic health record vendors from the American Academy of Family Physicians Center for Health Information Technology found that electronic health record systems are becoming more affordable for smaller physician practices.
This survey of 27 integrated or stand-alone EHR system providers revealed that the cost of the technology has dropped below $10,000 per doctor, a level at which the AAFP believes it will become more affordable for small physician practices.
The EHR companies surveyed currently license a total of 85,094 physicians—approximately 12 percent of all practicing U.S. physicians—to use those products. The 14 companies that provided 2004 sales data indicated average increases of 15 percent above 2003 sales.