Survey: Implementation of Health IT Lags

Even among health IT professionals, knowledge about an on-going national initiative and usage of electronic medical records at health care organizations are still lacking.

Health care information technology professionals arent that familiar with recent health IT initiatives, and their provider organizations are barely starting to integrate health IT. Thats according to a recent survey by Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, a group dedicated to providing leadership on health IT issues.

In an attempt to assess health care professionals views on the creation and implementation of a national health information infrastructure (NHII) in the United States, this spring HIMSS surveyed more than 400 health IT professionals. Two-thirds of the respondents work for a health care provider organization, while the remaining one-third work for a health IT vendor or consulting firm.

Only about half of the respondents indicated that they were aware of or are participating in the development of a national health information infrastructure. More than a third of the remainder indicated that they have limited awareness of NHII, while one in six said they are completely unfamiliar with it.

While this lack of familiarity may be surprising given the significant political and media emphasis put upon NHII this year, these responses are a vast improvement over the level of unfamiliarity demonstrated just last fall in a similar survey. More than one-third of respondents had never heard of NHII, and an additional third had only limited awareness.

The top priorities these health IT professionals have for a national information infrastructure are the sharing of data among health care providers, enhanced ability to capture and analyze adverse events, and the ability to easily share public health data. These goals were nearly unanimous among respondents.

But currently, more than three-quarters of these providers reported that they receive requested patient information by phone, fax or by the patients bringing their records with them. Only 29 percent say they use any electronic means of looking up patient information.

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Only half of respondents indicated that their provider organization offers online services. Most of these are for general patient inquiries about medications, conditions or symptoms. Only one in five of those that have online services provide for a personal portal allowing patients access to their own health care records.

Although electronic patient information is rarely accessed, more than three-quarters of health care providers surveyed indicated that their organization does send data to a personal health record. Still, patients arent identified in a uniform way in these personal health records. Most, 44 percent, rely on an identifier thats assigned at the time of registration, while one-third say that they have a master patient index with unique patient identifiers.

About nine out of 10 provider respondents indicated that they use at least one data standard to transmit information to public health agencies, but the standards employed vary widely. The three most frequently used standards are ICD-9 (55 percent), CPT (49 percent) and HL7 Message Format Standards (35 percent).

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