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Less than 2 percent of U.S. hospitals today use comprehensive electronic health records, according to a new survey of 3,000 hospitals that highlights just how far the health-care system has to go to meet President Obama’s goal of providing every American with access to electronic records by 2014.

Experts involved in the study, headed by David Blumenthal, Obama’s newly appointed national coordinator for health information technology, say that the $19 billion in funding for health-care information technology and other provisions outlined in the new stimulus bill will directly address the two major hurdles to adoption–the cost to implement and maintain the records, and the difficulty of exchanging information among various health-care providers’ differing computer systems.

“Those provisions try as directly as possible to address some of the barriers highlighted in the research,” said Blumenthal, a physician who currently serves as the director of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, at a press conference this week. He will assume his new post in April, leading an office within the Department of Health and Human Services–the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology–which was made permanent by the stimulus legislation.

According to the findings, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, about 8 percent of U.S. hospitals use basic EHR systems–which include patient demographics, medical complaints, medications, and some test results–in at least one department. Only about a quarter of those are using comprehensive EHR systems, including so-called decision support systems, which assist physicians and other health-care providers in making treatment decisions, for example, reminding them to prescribe pre-operative antibiotics.

“If the goal of [electronic record] adoption is to improve quality of care, then this kind of decision support can help clinicians provide the right care more often,” said Cait DesRoches, a public health expert at the Institute for Health Policy at MGH and one of the authors of the study, at the press conference.

Individual electronic functions are more common–about 16 percent of hospitals use electronic ordering systems for medications, while more than three-quarters of respondents reported using electronic systems for the results of laboratory and radiology tests.

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Credit: Technology Review

Tagged: Biomedicine, Web, electronic health records, stimulus package, healthcare IT, health IT, hospitals, health-care systems

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