There’s a new survey on EHRs out that most industry news outlets have headlined, “More doctors have gone digital.” This, directly from the survey’s title, Doctors Gone Digital, conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media for Practice Fusion, the EHR developer.
Forty-eight percent, or nearly 1 in 2 patients in the U.S., has noticed that their doctors have their records stored digitally on a computer. This is, of course, good news indeed. But under the proverbial hood of the survey data, you find a subtext: that if you’re older or more affluent, your physician is more likely to have access to electronic health records.
A slightly higher percentage of patients over 65 (52.6%) have digital records, compared with only 40% of people 25-34. Furthermore, 52.9% of people with incomes over both $50K and $75K have access to electronic health records, compared to 46.5% of patients with incomes between $20-29.9K.
What’s also worth pointing out is that GfK’s consumer segment called The Influentials has a much higher access to EHRs: 62.% of this cohort say they see EHRs in their doctors’ offices. The Influentials cohort is based on an index built on survey responses that have a high political activity such as signing a petition, writing a letter to an editor of a newspaper, making a speech, writing an article, being an office in a civic organization, and the like. Consumers who have done at least four of these things are considered “Influential.” They are the thought leaders in GfK’s analysis.
Health Populi’s Hot Points: As we celebrate the one-year anniversary of ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and its inclusion of nearly $20 billion in stimulus funding for EHRs, this survey data does signal it’s time for a toast. But it’s early days, and we can identify a digital divide in physician practices. This is not news per se: larger practices have an economic model that leverages their ability to adopt EHRs and spread the investment across a larger number of physicians. So the value proposition for acquiring EHRs has been easier to calculate, generally speaking. There have been exceptional solo and small practices that are successful EHR users.
Nonetheless, this study raises an important issue: we have disparities in health among patients in the U.S. We have disparities in digital health information adoption among physicians . There are also digital divides in health information adoption among patients and health citizens; broadband isn’t neatly or evenly spread around the U.S. (rural/urban/suburban differences exist). Nor do the sickest patients have equal access to broadband services, as data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project points out.
As we get closer to doling out the EHR stimulus funding, it would be useful and equitable to keep in mind another tenet for meaningful use: that it’s meant to be meaningful for all patients, not just for some.
With a margin of error of 3 percentage points, the numbers are close to the averages. But I’m raising the issue now as something to keep in mind as we all look forward to further physician adoption of EHRs, and improved access and quality for all Americans.