Over one-half of office-based physicians in the U.S. had adopted an electronic health record (EHR) in 2011. Among theese adopters, 85% were satisfied: 38% “very,” and 47% “somewhat.”

Those are pretty good reviews considering so many came to EHRs based on the government’s HITECH incentive and not motivated purely out of intrinsic personal passion to adopt digital medical records systems.

This update comes from the July 2012 Data Brief from the National Center for Health Statistic, Physician Adoption of Electronic Health Records Systems: United States. 2011.

The report details survey findings from 5,232 office-based physicians who completed the mailed questionnaire in 2011

The key findings include:

  • More physicians under 50 years of age have EHRs (64%) than those over 50 (49%)
  • Virtually all doctors working within HMOs have EHRs, compared with 50% of physician-owned practices
  • Solo practitioners are much less likely to have adopted an EHR: only 29% of them have an EHR, compared with 60% of 2 physician practices, 62% of 3-10 doctor practices, and a whopping 86% of those operating in practtices with 11 or more physicians
  • 59% of EHR systems are stand-alone, self-contained systems, compared with 41% that are web-based. The latter are those that are moree accessible via remote connections and mobile
  • 3 in 4 adopters say they’ll meet Meaningful Use criteria; 15% are uncertain
What is quite encouraging is that two-thirds of doctors who have adopted EHRs say they’d purchase the system again.
Among the top-cited benefits of EHRs were accessing the patient chart remotely (74%), receiving alerts to critical lab values (50%), receiving alerts to potential medication errors (41%), getting reminders to provide preventive care (39%), and getting reminders to provide care via clinical guidelines (37%).

When it comes to  patient-related outcomes, far and away is enhanced overall patient care, cited by 74% of EHR adoptinng physicians. Other benfeits related to patient care were ordering more on-formulary medications and orderiing fewer tests due to lab results’ availability. The latter two benefits together generate cost savings for both patients and the health system.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Beyond the 55% of physicians who adopted EHRs in 2011, what of the remaining 45%? 32% of those who have yet to buy into an EHR have no intention of purchasing an EHR within the next 12 months, during the second year of HITECH incentives. That calculates net-net to 14% of office-based physicians who have no intention of adopting an EHR.

There  may be many reasons for this, none of which were probed in this survey. A significant barrier to adoption can be age of the physician – particularly for those physicians close to retirement, and especially older doctors in solo private practice, the prospect of EHR adoption can seem daunting with risks and hassles far outweighing the relatively short-term benefits to the practice and to patients.

At the same time, more physicians are throwing in with institutions and manage care, where they will benefit from scale and organizations who will shepherd the adoption through helpful implementation, IT staff, and internal evangelists who train staff up. The fact that 100% of HMO-affiliated doctors use EHRs, 74% of doctors in community health centers and 70% in academic medical centers, speaks to the importance of scale in the earlier phase of EHR adoption.

Overall, most doctors really do seem to like their EHRs in this hockey-stick phase of adoption.