Federal support spurs 'major strides' in EHR adoption

"Unprecedented" levels of financial support for health IT adoption from the Meaningful Use Incentive Program are fueling the increase in electronic health record use by providers, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's annual report, released on Monday.

Co-authored by Mathematica Policy Research and the Harvard School of Public Health, the report, entitled Health Information Technology in the United States: Better Information Systems for Better Care, 2013, found that 44 percent of U.S. hospitals had a basic EHR system in place, up 17 percent from 2011 and nearly triple from 2010, when the Meaningful Use Incentive program was launched.

Physician adoption has also increased, with 38.2 percent of physicians reporting use of a basic EHR.

The report also noted that the focus "has begun to shift" from simple use of the technology to "using it in a way that improves quality and efficiency of care."

Some of the increase in health IT adoption also is attributed to the Affordable Care Act, the authors said, which also encourages EHR use.

The report acknowledges that EHR adoption is not without its problems. For instance, according to the authors, rural hospitals still lag behind in EHR adoption, although they are making progress in narrowing the gap. Changes also need to be made, they said, to better use EHRs to provide patient education.

The findings mirror those reported last month in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's annual report to Congress, which touted "steady increases" in the adoption of EHRs, but also acknowledged that challenges still need to be overcome.

The government has been criticized by Republican lawmakers regarding the effectiveness of the Meaningful Use program, with some members of Congress suggesting that it be "rebooted," and others calling for incentive payments to be frozen.  The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has not yet officially responded to the lawmakers' latest call for change.  

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)