Hospitals move slowly to implement EMR

March 17, 2005

The use of electronic records in healthcare lags far behind the computerization of information in other sectors of the economy, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The use of electronic records in healthcare lags far behind the computerization of information in other sectors of the economy, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The document released March 15 found that fewer than a third of the nation's hospital emergency and outpatient departments used electronic medical records during the period measured from 2001 to 2003.

"The bulk of ambulatory care in this country is provided in physicians' offices, but fewer than one in five doctors is using electronic medical records," said lead author Catharine W. Burt, Ed.D, chief of the Ambulatory Care Statistics Branch at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics

The data revealed that fewer than one physician in 12 uses computerized provider order entry systems, although physicians under 50 years of age were twice as likely as physicians 50 and over to embrace CPOE.

Nearly three-quarters of physician office practices, however, turned to electronic billing systems, an easy target for digitization.

IT expenditures reflect the slow EMR growth. In 2001, U.S. providers spent more than $20 billion for IT, but less than a third ($6.5 billion) went for hospital clinical systems. Most expenditures went toward upgrading and maintaining financial billing systems.

Implementation of EMR in healthcare is slow because it requires a large investment of both time and human resources, the report said. Another obstacle to wider acceptance is the lack of uniform national standards for data entry and security.

According to the Leapfrog Group, a national coalition of large healthcare purchasers, a 200-bed hospital can expect to spend between $1 million and $7 million to implement an EMR system.

The CDC survey data were obtained from provider induction interviews from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS), the ambulatory care component of the National Health Care Survey (NHCS). Federally employed physicians and those who specialize in anesthesiology, radiology, or pathology were excluded.