The New England Journal of Medicine published a study describing dismal rates of adoption and use of EHR technology in the United States. The authors of the study found that
less than 2% of acute care hospitals have a comprehensive electronic-records system, and that, depending on the definition used, between 8 and 12% of hospitals have a basic electronic-records system. With the use of the definition that requires the presence of functionalities for physicians' notes and nursing assessments, information systems in more than 90% of U.S. hospitals do not even meet the requirement for a basic electronic-records system.
Financial restraints is the most commonly cited reason for lack of electronic health records. The authors found higher adoption rates among larger, urban, teaching hospitals (which the authors partially attributed to such institutions' financial resources available for EHR technology). Interoperability and low levels of health information exchange also have a negative effect on EHR adoption levels.
However, the authors did provide a glimmer of hope, if not good news:
From a policy perspective, our data suggest that rewarding hospitals — especially financially vulnerable ones — for using health information technology may play a central role in a comprehensive approach to stimulating the spread of hospital electronic-records systems. Creating incentives for increasing information-technology staff and harmonizing information-technology standards and creating disincentives for not using such technology may also be helpful approaches.
Thus, hopefully the incentive payment provisions in the HITECH Act will have a positive effect on adoption rates in the foreseeable future.
It is worth pointing out that Dr. Blumenthal, the new head of ONCHIT, is one of the study's authors. This study was covered by major national news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
"Use of Electronic Health Records in U.S. Hospitals" (New England Journal of Medicine, March 25, 2009).