Hospitals and doctors’ offices across the country have worked in recent years to adopt electronic health records, spurred largely by the 2011 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and its financial incentives. But critics say these EHRs have not been shown to significantly improve patient care quality, and may even leave patients vulnerable to having their information stolen.
According to a recent study, however, the real reason such anxiety surrounds the implementation of EHRs is simply fear of change among medical professionals. “They want to stick with what they know works,” co-author Jaeyong Bae, of Northern Illinois University, said in a March 5 news release.
Bae, along with William E. Encinosa of Georgetown, found that hospitals that do not use EHRs see a 14% increase in medical errors over those that do. Because of this and other factors, their study concludes that cultural changes, and not efficacy, are the real impediment to expansion and more efficient use of EHRs.
The study has been published in the March issue of the journal Healthcare.
The Question of Interoperability
Another major criticism of EHRs is that current efforts — including billions of dollars in public funds awarded through the HITECH Act — have done little to address interoperability, or sharing of EHRs among practitioners.
Part of the vision of EHRs is that doctors will be able to pull up information from visits with other providers and be able to better coordinate care, but even Bae acknowledges this is not yet fully a reality.
Because providers use many systems, most of which are incompatible with one another, it’s fairly common for one practitioner to receive patient information via fax or in physical form, then have to actually enter it into a new EHR.
Interoperability was even the subject of a scathing blog post written by five American senators and released on the Health Affairs blog March 4. “What have the American people gotten for their $35 billion dollar investment [in the HITECH Act]?” the authors ask. “… There is inconclusive evidence that the program has achieved its goals of increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and improving the quality of care.”