Electronic Medical Records Are Top Health Care IT Priority: Survey

Electronic medical records, or EMRs, are the top priority for health care IT workers, according to an Embarcadero Technologies survey. Other areas of concern include data warehouses and health information exchanges.

Electronic medical records, or EMRs, are the top priority for IT professionals working in the health care industry, according to a new survey by Embarcadero Technologies, a San Francisco-based application development and database management firm. The study also found that for IT pros, meeting the challenges of working with data warehouses and health care information exchanges were also areas of focus.

The survey results, which were announced on July 19, showed that EMRs were a key priority for 61 percent of respondents.

Embarcadero, maker of Delphi and C++ Builder, collected information on the biggest challenges in health care IT as far as data management and tools.

The survey found that 85 percent of health care IT professionals are either working on an EMR project or plan to in the next 18 months. The second-highest priority for 52 percent of respondents was building health data warehouses. In third place, 47 percent of IT pros said that health information exchanges remained a top priority.

The survey was sent to 3,000 workers in health care IT, including developers, data administrators, data architects and executives.

Government financial incentives are the driving force behind the move toward electronic medical records and data management, said Shahid Shah, an Embarcadero consultant, author of the Health Care IT Guy blog and a developer of health care applications for organizations such as the American Red Cross, CardinalHealth and the National Institutes of Health.

"If you can make the data structured and it helps you get paid better, they'll do it," Shah told eWEEK. "To help a patient from a clinical POV, it most likely won't get done."

The federal government is setting aside $19 billion through ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) to implement EMRs under the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act's meaningful-use guidelines.

The Embarcadero research was carried out in March and April, a few months before the government released final meaningful-use guidelines. Yet according to Embarcadero, many health care IT professionals were planning work on EMRs anyway.

Josh Howard, Embarcadero's senior manager of product marketing, was surprised to learn that 74 percent of respondents had a good understanding of meaningful-use requirements.

"People are struggling with meaningful use and certification," Howard told eWEEK. "A lot of them understand the requirements but are not sure they can meet the timeframes and deadlines the government has set."

Shah agreed with that assessment.

"They understand broadly what it is, but there are a good chunk of developers that don't have a clue about the details," said Shah.

Shah noted that health information exchanges, such as the cloud platform announced last week by Verizon, are one of the major meaningful-use objectives set by the government. "Without a useful, easy-to-use HIE, there are a lot of requirements that can't be met," he said.

Clinical data warehouses are important so medical professionals can analyze the data and help to improve medical outcomes. Shah explained that data warehouses will be necessary under the meaningful-use guidelines to implement what he calls "structured note-taking," or moving from unstructured (paper) to structured (electronic).

"CMS is giving out this money because CMS wants data," Shah explained. "If you have the data, you can make decisions about predictive analysis of health care."

Although 61 percent of respondents in the survey listed EMRs as a priority, not all are implementing them in a way that can be shared or analyzed for demographic trends, Shah explained. Many are simply scanned for record-keeping purposes.

"You can't do analysis and comparison with just images," Shah said. "The majority that think they're doing electronic today is simply scanning, imaging and document managing-it's not structured data with analytical capabilities."

Although EMRs are a priority for the health care industry, Embarcadero found that no leader exists in providing the services. "It's a very fragmented field," Shah said. Of the respondents, 13.2 percent named Epic as a provider, 11.3 percent named Cerner and 7.5 percent cited Siemens.

Interoperability will be the linchpin for implementation of EMRs, said Shah, adding that that three out of 15 core requirements in the HHS meaningful-use regulations call for it.

"If you're going to actually meet meaningful use, interoperability and exchange of data are now going be a norm," said Shah. "It's not going to be the extreme; it's not going to be one of those things you do on the side. My system is your system plus your system. If you don't do that, you're not really a meaningful user. That's huge."