Physicians Struggle to Take Full Advantage of EHRs

New findings published in Annals of Internal Medicine show that the number of physicians using basic electronic health records (EHR) increased by 10% in just over 1 year, but that only a small percentage of these physicians use the advanced EHR functions that have the most potential to increase patient care quality while reducing costs. Under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) "meaningful use" standards for EHRs, providers meeting specific criteria for using EHRs to report their performance on quality measures are eligible to receive incentive payments from CMS.

Researchers for the Commonwealth Fund–supported study surveyed a random selection of approximately 2,000 primary care physicians (PCPs) and 1,400 specialists. From October 2011 to March 2012, the survey questioned participants about measures of EHR adoption previously developed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, as well as care coordination, use of quality information, and participation in payment incentive programs promoting EHR use.

Snapshot: EHR Use Among Physicians

During the study period, EHR use by participants increased from 34% to 44%. More than 40% of both PCPs and specialists now use a "basic EHR," meaning that they use simple EHR functions, such as viewing lab results and X-rays, ordering prescription drugs electronically, and recording clinical notes. About 40% of PCPs and specialists also meet between eight and 10 of the 11 federal meaningful use criteria.

Overall, though, the survey results show that adoption of EHRs still has a long way to go before the full promise of this tool is realized. Only 9.8% of physicians reported meeting all 11 meaningful use criteria, and among those who came close, many experienced difficulty using more advanced EHR features that, for example, generate quality metrics, provide patients with after-visit summaries, and facilitate the electronic exchange of data with physicians outside the practice.

The authors concluded that additional training, as well as further research on usability, may be needed to help physicians reap the full benefits of EHRs.