Physicians using tablets to treat patients

Remote access to e-health records a top priority

Within the next year, almost half of all doctors will be using tablets and other mobile devices to perform everyday tasks, such as accessing patient information in electronic medical records (EMRs), according to the survey by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), a nonprofit group.

Today, a quarter of healthcare providers surveyed say they're using tablets in their practice. Another 21% indicated they expect to do so within a year.

CompTIA's Third Annual Healthcare IT Insights and Opportunities study was based on two seperate online surveys: One focused on 350 doctors, dentists and other healthcare providers or administrators; the other polled 400 IT firms with healthcare IT practices. Both were conducted in late July and early August.

The study shows that more than half of healthcare professionals currently use a smartphone for work, and about a third use their smartphones or tablets to access EMR systems. Another 20% expect to start mobile usage with EMRs within the next year.

The U.S. government is pressing all medical facilities to roll out EHRs by 2016, but the going has been slow so far. By the end of next year, 58% of small physician practices are expected to have EHR systems in place.

By 2014, the federal government wants more than half of all healthcare facilities to use EHRs.

Facilities that roll out the systems -- and prove their meaningful use, according to federal standards -- can receive tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursement money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Some facilities, depending on their size, could get millions.

EHRs are also expected to promote the use of standardized medical practices.

CompTIA's survey also showed EMR system adoption is on the rise, with 38% of healthcare providers indicating they have a comprehensive system in place and 17% saying they have a partial system or module. Sixty-one percent of the EMR said they're generally satisfied with their comprehensive systems.

"That's a respectable figure, but one that also indicates there's room for improvement in areas such as greater ease of use; better interoperability with other systems; faster speeds; improved remote access and mobility features; and more training," CompTIA said.

Doctors have reported feeling like data-entry clerks when typing their own notes into EMR systems. Others are unfamiliar with the technology and see it as yet one more learning curve to conquer in their jobs.

"We're a teaching hospital, so on one end of the spectrum we have residents born with a computer in their hand and so they look at this as an opportunity to move forward; on the other side of the spectrum are the physicians [who] are in their 60s and the very idea of signing onto a computer is a big question mark to them," said Bill Fawns, director of IT services at Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, Calif.

Late last year, Kern Medical Center, a 222-bed acute-care teaching hospital, deployed an OpenVista EMR system from Medsphere Systems Corp.

"As mobile devices and applications have become more user-friendly, affordable and powerful, the appeal to businesses of all types, including healthcare providers, has grown exponentially," Tim Herbert, vice president of research at CompTIA, said in a statement.

The survey also touched on the adoption of cloud computing in the healthcare industry. The results showed cloud computing is clearly in its early stages, with 57% indicating they were not very familiar with the technology and just 5% stating they were using cloud services.

"It's worth noting, though, that some healthcare providers are likely using cloud-based applications, like software-as-a-service, and not thinking of it as cloud computing," the report stated.

The potential for its growth is strong. A key component of EMR meaningful use standards is the ability to share information, either through proprietary networks or through regional Health Information Exchanges, which will include many of the elements of cloud computing.

Adoption of telemedicine, where physicians consult with patients with teleconferencing, is still a ways off, the report said. Recent studies have shown that patients can be just as effectively treated through telemedicine as through traditional in-person visits. In fact, studies have shown telemedicine actually improves patient-physician communication.

Hoewever, just 14% of healthcare professionals reported actively following news and trends in telemedicine, according to CompTIA's survey.

Those surveyed indicated they saw the greatest benefits of telemedicine in the areas of continuing medical education (61%), specialist referral services (44%) and patient consultations (37%). Only one in 10 healthcare providers surveyed say they intend to use video conferencing for patient interaction within the next 12 months.

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 .

Read more about health care in Computerworld's Health Care Topic Center.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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