U.S. Doctors Ramp Up 'Routine' Use of EHRs, E-Prescribing: Report

U.S. doctors have increased their adoption of digital health records and electronic prescribing at twice the rate of other countries, an Accenture survey revealed.

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U.S. physicians have shown a significant increase in accessing digital health data at double the rate of their global counterparts, according to a new report by IT consulting company Accenture.

Doctors in the United States increased their "routine" use of health IT—such as e-prescribing and entering data in electronic health records (EHRs)—by 32 percent, compared with 15 percent of doctors in other countries, according to the May 9 report, titled "The Digital Doctor Is 'In,'" based on a survey conducted by Harris Interactive.

"That tells us we're really at an inflection point—that it's moving into the routine category," Dr. Kaveh Safavi, Accenture's North American health lead, told eWEEK. "I think that was the most important finding."

Although doctors described their use as "routine," they didn't specify the degree to which EHRs are part of their workflow, Safavi said.

"There's obviously a ways to go in it being complete," he said. "Being routine doesn't mean it covers all tasks, but it does mean it's embedded into the regular activity of the practice."

Despite a previous Harris Interactive survey showing that patients are wary of EHR use, doctors are showing strong adoption of the technology.

The Accenture survey revealed that 78 percent of U.S. doctors enter patient notes electronically into EHRs, a 34 percent increase from a year ago.

In addition, 91 percent of doctors in the eight countries surveyed are using health records in hospitals or their own organizations, and 60 percent use them in their own practices, according to the Accenture report.

U.S. doctors are embracing the use of EHRs and the health information exchanges (HIEs) that connect them, enabling a "virtual integration" for medical offices, according to Mark Knickrehm, global managing director of the health business for Accenture.

"This growing trend strongly supports a patient-centered approach to care and reinforces the progress physicians are making as they prepare to meet the meaningful-use guidelines required by the Affordable Care Act," Knickrehm said in a statement.

For the report, Harris conducted an online survey of 3,700 doctors in Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Singapore, Spain and the United States. It carried out the research between November and December 2012, and about 500 doctors in each of the eight countries participated.

Singapore showed the biggest increase in accessing clinical results electronically, with a 40 percent jump from 2011 to 2012. U.S. doctors were second with a 24 percent increase during that period.

In addition, U.S. doctors showed growth in electronic prescribing of medication, with 65 percent saying that they e-prescribe. Singapore had the greatest increase in e-prescribing, with a 36 percent gain from 2011 to 2012. U.S. doctors were second, with a 33 percent increase; physicians in Spain had a 32 percent increase in e-prescribing during that period.

Spain has added more public infrastructure for health IT adoption for many years, Safavi noted. The U.S. ramped up health IT adoption more recently after the Obama administration implemented the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which launched the meaningful-use EHR incentive program.

As far as health IT adoption, the gap for the U.S. compared with other countries is "not that big anymore," Safavi said. "We're getting pretty close to the top end."

The survey showed growth in connectivity to HIEs, as almost 45 percent of doctors surveyed reported that they regularly access clinical data from health providers outside their organizations.

Although U.S. doctors reported a sharp increase in the use of EHRs, they didn't believe they brought a large reduction in health care costs, which is the biggest barrier to technology adoption, Accenture reported.

Only 38 percent of U.S. doctors said they believe that EHRs reduced costs for their practice.

Still, the findings showed progress in doctors' adoption of health IT, according to Safavi.

"This is a positive finding, a finding that says all our effort and energy seems to be paying off in physician attitudes, and that's a good thing," he said.