Survey: 58% of docs to roll out e-health records in next two years

The key drivers of EMR adoption are federal carrot and stick regulations

A survey released today by Accenture and Harris Interactive showed that 58% of physicians in small private practices plan to roll out electronic medical record (EMR) technology over the next two years, spurred by federal regulations that will first offer monetary incentives and then penalties.

The researchers surveyed 1,000 U.S. physicians in December who worked in offices with fewer than 10 practitioners. Nearly 80% of the respondents age 55 or younger said they planned to roll out EMRs in the next two years.

The purpose of the survey was to determine physicians' concerns and perceptions of EMRs and gauge motivating factors at a time when federal legislation includes incentives for physicians who implement EMRs and penalties for those who do not adopt EMRs by 2015. Of the physicians surveyed, only 15% said they were already using EMRs. Overall, only 6% of private physician practices have fully functioning EMR systems in place, according to Accenture.

Accenture said the doctors who don't use EMRs underestimate the cost and time requirements to implement an EMR system. And in comparison with the actual experiences of EMR users, non-users have an exaggerated perception of how difficult it is to use EMR systems.

Of the physicians who use EMRs, 90% indicated that the systems brought value to their practices because they offered an effective overview of a patient's history. They also said that the systems allow quick and accurate data entry.

The federal government has released a 556-page draft rule that contains specifications and certification criteria for EMRs. Those rules, now available for public comment, set a four-year timeline beginning in 2011 for implementing the systems; they also spell out best practices. A final version of the government's Notice of Proposed Rule Making helps define what type of technology should be used and spells out how $36 billion in incentives from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 should be paid out. A physician in private practice can receive up to $44,000 for rolling out EMR technology.

Physicians and hospitals that don't roll out the EMR technology and prove that they are making "meaningful use" of it by 2015 face penalties in the form of reduced Medicare reimbursements.

Respondents to the Accenture survey said the federal regulations were the key factor driving EMR adoption, with 61% saying Medicare reimbursement penalties were spurring adoption and 51% attributing adoption to the incentive money.

Accenture and Harris Interactive conducted the survey, and the New York Academy of Medicine assisted with the qualitative survey and analysis.

Seventy-five percent of those surveyed who were not already using an EMR system said they were "intrigued by the idea of purchasing an EMR system from a local hospital," if the purchase would be at least partially subsidized by the hospital. Those same respondents indicated that they expected hospitals or a health network to subsidize about half of the system's cost.

"Our research indicates that, as intended, federal legislation is an important driver of EMR adoption among U.S. physicians," Dr. Kip Webb, who leads Accenture's clinical transformation practice, said in a statement. "If U.S. health care providers properly implement and use EMRs more broadly, there is no doubt that EMRs can make an important contribution to improving quality of care and controlling costs."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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