More office-based doctors are using electronic medical records in their practices, helping to bring the medical industry away from unwieldy piles of paperwork and into the 21st century.
A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics says as of this year, 72 percent of physicians used an electronic health record (EHR), compared to just 48 percent in 2009. That year, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act authorized financial incentives through Medicare and Medicaid to increase doctors' use of an EHR, which explains, in part, the jump in adoption rates since then.
The percentage of physicians using an EHR varied from state to state, ranging from 54 percent in New Jersey to 89 percent in Massachusetts. California is toward the upper end of the spectrum: 80.3 percent of Golden State doctors are using some sort of EHR. As of 2012, about two-thirds of nation's doctors planned to take advantage of federal incentives to adopt an EHR; the same was true of 58.4 percent of California doctors.
Using an EHR simply means that doctors affirmed their practices "use electronic medical records or electronic health records." But when federal statisticians asked about "basic" EHR systems – that is, systems that fulfill a certain number of criteria – adoption rates dropped. By definition, basic systems keep track of patients' history and demographics, patient problem lists, clinical notes by the physicians, computerized orders for prescription, comprehensive lists of patients' medications and allergies, and have an ability to view lab and imaging results electronically.
Only 40 percent of doctors said their systems met the criteria for a "basic" EHR. In California, that number was 36.8 percent.
It gets more advanced than mere "basic" use of an EHR, though. In order to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentives, doctors have to demonstrate that their EHRs meet "meaningful use" criteria, which go beyond basic criteria. This year, 27 percent of doctors using an EHR said their system met 13 of the "Stage 1 Core Set" objectives of meaningful use.
South L.A. clinics and health providers have made it a point to get a jump on implementing electronic medical records, despite the initial cost and learning curve that comes with doing so. Once they're in place, EHRs can help doctors collect more data more easily, as well as make it more difficult for patients and follow-ups to fall through the cracks.