TUESDAY, Jan. 15 (HealthDay News) -- More than two-thirds of
family doctors now use electronic health records, and the
percentage doing so doubled between 2005 and 2011, a new study
If the trend continues, 80 percent of family doctors -- the
largest group of primary care physicians -- will be using
electronic records by 2013, the researchers predicted.
The findings provide "some encouragement that we have passed a
critical threshold," said study author Dr. Andrew Bazemore,
director of the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Primary
Care, in Washington, D.C. "The significant majority of primary care
practitioners appear to be using digital medical records in some
form or fashion."
The promises of electronic record-keeping include improved
medical care and long-term savings. However, many doctors were slow
to adopt these records because of the high cost and the complexity
of converting paper files. There were also privacy concerns.
"We are not there yet," Bazemore added. "More work is needed, including better information from all of the states."
The Obama administration has offered incentives to doctors who
adopt electronic health records, and penalties to those who do
For the study, researchers mined two national data sets to see
how many family doctors were using electronic health records, how
this number changed over time, and how it compared to use by
specialists. Their findings appear in the January-February issue of
Annals of Family Medicine.
Nationally, 68 percent of family doctors were using electronic
health records in 2011, they found. Rates varied by state, with a
low of about 47 percent in North Dakota and a high of nearly 95
percent in Utah.
Dr. Michael Oppenheim, vice president and chief medical
information officer for North Shore Long Island Jewish Health
System in Great Neck, N.Y., said electronic record-keeping
streamlines medical care.
These records "eliminate handwriting errors, and help with
planning and caring for patients with chronic medical problems,"
Oppenheim said. Plus, the files can be accessed by a doctor when
the initial provider is unavailable, he said.
Electronic health records also save money in the long term, he
noted. "If a patient has a complaint and just had a blood test, and
then shows up at the ER (emergency room) with the same complaint,
the ER doctor can access the record and not reorder the same test,"
Oppenheim said medical penalties are driving adoption of
e-records, but there is still some hesitancy. "Doctors are nervous
about the cost and worried about how it will affect their
practice," he said. "The conversion process is complex."
Doctors can do it themselves or outsource the system. "You pay
in productivity or dollars," he said.
Electronic health records are good news for all involved, agreed
Dr. Adam Szerencsy, an internist at New York University Medical
Center in New York City and the Epic Medical Director there. Epic
is NYU's electronic health record system.
When the concept first surfaced, many patients were concerned
about their privacy. Today's electronic health records are secure
and often have protocols attached to make sure that they don't fall
into the wrong hands, he explained.
A key reason that family doctors are leading the transition is
that government incentives make it a little more lucrative for
family practitioners than specialists, he said.
Also, "primary care doctors manage patients over time, while
subspecialists usually don't," Szerencsy said. For example, a
surgeon may treat appendicitis, and then the case is closed.
The Holy Grail is thought to be a universal health record where
doctors everywhere can access patient records. "We are getting
closer," Szerencsy said. "Within the next couple of years,
electronic health records will explode across the board."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more
about electronic health records.
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