The group conducted surveys of thousands of physicians from 2000 to 2001 and from 2004 to 2005 and found that the percentage claiming access to at least four of five clinical information technologies nearly doubled from 11 percent to 21 percent over the four-year period.
Electronic tools in each of the five areas assessed became more common:
- Obtaining treatment guidelines grew from 53 percent to 65 percent.
- Exchanging clinical data with other physicians grew from 41 percent to 50 percent.
- Accessing notes about patient care increased from 37 percent to 50 percent.
- Generating reminders grew from 24 percent to 29 percent.
- Writing prescriptions increased 11 percent to 22 percent.
The number of physicians who reported limited access to IT, defined as one or none of the assessed technologies, dropped from 51 percent to 37 percent.
However, the rates likely overestimate physicians use of IT because the survey determined whether physicians had access to a technology, not whether they used it.
"While gains in physician practice-based IT for patient care are encouraging, theres still a long way to go," said Paul B. Ginsburg, president of HSC.
Despite the rise in health IT, HSC describes the numbers as discouraging, representing a growth rate between 1 and 4 percent a year: "The fairly slow average year-to-year growth and the significant proportion of physicians that continue to have only limited access to clinical IT suggest that physicians as a group have not yet reached a tipping point in the adoption of IT for most clinical activities."
More details of the Community Tracking Study Physician Survey are available here.
Another recent study in the journal Health Affairs found that the U.S. was lagging behind in adoption rates for electronic medical records.
However, there may also be reason for optimism. The number of doctors who could write electronic prescriptions doubled over the past four years, and the first half of 2006 has been littered with e-prescribing initiatives.
In April, e-prescribing vendor ZixCorp announced that its prescription count exceeded a record-high 100,000 electronic prescriptions per week.
Barriers to IT adoption persist. Physicians are held back by the costs of installing and maintaining clinical systems. They say they worry that the technology will disrupt their workflow and reduce the number of patients they can see over the working day. They say they also worry that their investments could become obsolete quickly as technology advances.