EMR Adoption.. How Fast?

Recent survey results released show only 50.7% of U.S. hospitals with implemented electronic medical records (EMRs). While transitioning to a paperless system seems to be a logical evolution in the health care system, the rather slow rate of EMR adoption does not surprise me. Even with the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) in February 2009 which attached a monetary incentive to implementation, technologies that do not seamlessly fit into clinicians’ day-to-day activities, improve patient care, and enable them to work more efficiently fail to achieve widespread acceptance. In order to improve EMR adoption rates in the U.S., we must provide doctors with tools that do not disrupt time spent with the patients, while enhancing their ability to access vital information quickly and efficiently.

David Blumenthal, MD, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at the Department of Health and Human Services, believes the HITECH Act is a big part of driving increased adoption rates. By forging passage of the Act, the government made it clear that using health information technology tools in care delivery was important enough to warrant economic rewards to those organizations that implemented such systems. Physicians and hospitals that are able to demonstrate that they effectively use EMRs, as defined by rules of “meaningful use” issued by the government, are eligible to receive incentive payments that were set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus package. With this kind of encouragement, it is no wonder expectations of EMR adoption were, and continue to be high.

While the monetary incentives certainly are a key factor in prompting organizations and group practices to roll out EMRs and meet meaningful use criteria, it is not something that directly incentivizes physicians to embrace EMRs. In order for physicians to truly adopt and consistently leverage new technologies, they must prove to be beneficial within their daily workflows. Historically, EMRs were tied to slowing workflows rather than improving efficiencies with many of the benefits of EMR use accruing to others. This is quickly changing.

Although the common misconception is that physicians are resistant to technology, analysis of physician use of technology proves otherwise. Physicians embrace technologies that help them deliver better care while allowing them to work more efficiently. In contrast, they resist cumbersome technologies that hinder their ability to effectively treat their patients. With the recent availability of technology tools that help smooth the adoption of EMRs such as single sign-on and roaming virtual desktops, we will see an increasing number of health care providers successfully deploying and effectively using EMR systems.

Well-designed clinical workflows incorporating EMRs will dramatically change clinical and financial outcomes. We are just beginning to explore the initial versions of best practices that should be widely deployed. Our first step was getting EMRs into the hands of physicians.

Do you think we will continue to see the percentage of EMR adopters rise? What is preventing adoption from rising even faster?