A small fraction of U.S. hospitals reported using electronic medical records software last year and even fewer would have met new requirements for "meaningful use" of the systems in 2009, according to an American Hospital Assn. survey.
The group’s poll of about 3,100 hospitals between March and November 2009 showed that fewer than 12 percent used EMRs and just 2 percent of those could have passed the meaningful use standards announced in July.
"These findings underscore the fact that the transition to a digital health care system is likely to be a long one," the report’s author’s wrote.
Results from the survey, published online in the journal Health Affairs, also showed a widening gap between the type of hospitals that did adopt the technology. Larger operations reported a 7.5 percent adoption rate, while only 1.2 percent of smaller hospitals said they used EMRs.
"From 2008 to 2009, critical-access, small, public, or rural hospitals in effect fell even further behind in the adoption of electronic health records," according to the report. "The same survey of U.S. hospitals conducted in the summer of 2008 found that hospitals that were critical access, small, public, nonteaching, or rural had 2 percent — 10 percent lower levels of adoption of the records. Our data reported above suggest that these gaps have widened."
Lead author Ashish Jha, an associate professor of public health at the Harvard School of Public Health and senior adviser to the under secretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration, told the Wall Street Journal that the billions allocated by the federal healthcare reform act will likely increase the rate of adoption, but by much.
"I’d be shocked if we didn’t see an uptick in 2010 and an even bigger one in 2011," Jha told the newspaper’s Health Blog. "But are we going from 2 percent to 40 percent? No. We might go from 2 percent to 5 percent [this year] to 15 percent or 20 percent in 2011."
Other survey’s have also reported low adoption rates. For example, a July PricewaterhouseCoopers poll of 120 chief information officers at healthcare providers showed that 80 percent doubted their organizations could meet the meaningful use rules. Even slight increases in adoption are a boon for the burgeoning group of EMR providers. Consulting firm Frost & Sullivan estimated revenues of $1.3 billion for the industry in 2009 and forecast a 37 percent increase to $2.6 billion in 2012.
The U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services released the new meaningful use rules July 13, to positive reviews from some experts. The healthcare reform act initially set aside about $20 billion to promote EMR adoption, available to physician practices, hospitals and other healthcare providers that prove they’re using the technology.