Researchers in Boston and Chicago have found the numbers to back up what many have been saying all along — only about 2% of hospitals are ready to achieve meaningful use of electronic health record (EHR) technology.
Their study, which uses data from an American Hospital Association (AHA) survey of 3,101 hospitals, also concludes that large, urban hospitals are, in fact, more likely to be using EHR systems than smaller, more suburban and rural centers. Overall, about 12% of hospitals completed EHR adoption as of 2009, which represents a “modest” increase from less than 9% in 2008.
“These findings underscore the fact that the transition to a digital health care system is likely to be a long one,” the authors write in the abstract to the study, titled A Progress Report on Electronic Health Records in U.S. Hospitals and published on the Health Affairs website.
The 2% figure regarding meaningful use readiness was derived from hospitals’ responses to the survey’s questions about whether they were using 32 specific clinical functions and how widely they had been implemented, Healthcare IT News explains on its website. Because the AHA survey was conducted over a six-month period in 2009, there is a chance that the readiness number is quite a bit higher now. Still, it’s a sobering reminder of how far the health care industry has to go.
The study’s authors offer some suggestions to help providers get to meaningful use. One is to provide regional extension centers with enough funding that they can serve small and medium-sized hospitals in addition to small practices and ambulatory clinics.
Another possibility is to provide further financial incentives to small, public or rural hospitals for buying or upgrading a certified EHR system. “There is precedent for this approach,” the study points out. “Congress has already allocated extra incentive payments for providers that care for a large proportion of Medicaid patients. If we wait until after 2011 to identify the early recipients of meaningful use incentives, it may be too late to reverse these trends in a timely fashion.”
Finally, federal officials must be able to convince health care providers that meaningful use isn’t simply an exercise in collecting data for bean counters. If that’s the case, meaningful use is a barrier to EHR adoption, and small practices won’t bother. Providers need to see that the time, money, sweat and tears that will go into EHR adoption will give them something in return.