Healthcare News & Insights

How do hospitals fare with EHR adoption?

178057737Hospitals have come a long way toward adopting electronic health records (EHR) systems, but there’s still progress to be made, according to the results of a new study.

The study, published in Health Affairs, looked at how many hospitals were implementing EHRs, and which ones were achieving meaningful use objectives. Researchers reviewed data from the American Hospital Association’s (AHA) 2013 Annual Survey.

In the survey, participating hospitals described their EHRs and their features.

Overall, most hospitals have started using some kind of EHR. In fact, 59% of hospitals are using at least a “basic” EHR. The study defined a basic EHR as one that electronically saves the following information:

  1. patient demographic info
  2. physician/provider notes
  3. nursing assessments
  4. patient problem lists
  5. patient medication lists
  6. discharge summaries
  7. lab reports
  8. radiology reports
  9. diagnostic results, and
  10. medication lists so prescriptions can be ordered.

Comprehensive EHRs had fields for all this info, plus additional capabilities, such as:

  • automatic drug allergy alerts
  • automatic nursing alerts
  • the ability to store advanced directives
  • the ability to store radiology images
  • the ability to display clinical guidelines for reference, and
  • automatic alerts of drug interactions.

While only 25% of hospitals were using a comprehensive EHR, this shows growth from 2010, the last time researchers studied data from the AHA’s survey.

EHR adoption rates in general are on the rise across all types of hospitals, from safety-net hospitals to facilities with a more affluent patient base, though hospitals in rural areas have slightly lower adoption rates than other hospitals. Since 2010, 10% to 15% of all hospitals have started using an EHR system each year.

Moving forward

Many hospitals have implemented EHRs in an attempt to participate in the meaningful use program and meet federal benchmarks from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Participating hospitals can earn incentives now, but those that fall behind the curve will face pay cuts down the line. And while most hospitals can meet at least some criteria for the most recent phase of the meaningful use program, Stage 2, less than 6% of hospitals can meet them all.

As might be expected, smaller hospitals and facilities in rural areas are less likely to meet EHR benchmarks than their larger counterparts. But even among hospitals with comprehensive EHRs that are on track to meet most Stage 2 objectives, improvement can be made.

The study’s researchers suggested that hospitals at all phases of EHR implementation need to make the most out of their systems by adding two crucial features most EHRs lack:

  • Allowing patients to view, download and transmit their own personal health data online, and
  • Sending summaries of treatment when patients are discharged and released into the care of another provider or healthcare setting.

While a fair number of EHRs have at least one of these features, few systems incorporate all of them. Many comprehensive EHRs lack the ability to transmit data about a patient’s hospital stay to other providers – or even to patients themselves.

Currently, 11.6% of hospitals’ EHR systems are capable of electronic transmission of patient data. Nearly 40% of EHRs give patients the ability to view data, and close to 28% allow patients to download their health info. Only 10.6% of hospital EHR systems offer all three options to patients.

As healthcare delivery becomes more of a team effort among primary care providers, hospitals and other specialists, having these capabilities in an EHR system will become less of an option and more of a requirement. Reason: All providers who treat a patient will need access to the person’s health history to aid with the continuity of care.

So hospitals need to start implementing these features in their EHR systems now.

And hospitals that have only basic capabilities with their EHRs need to look at upgrading to more comprehensive systems, not only to meet increasingly strict government standards as the meaningful use program continues, but to provide better patient care down the line.

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