Increased EHR adoption could ease physician shortage

EHR and e-health use will "dramatically" impact the amount and type of physician services needed in the future, according to a new study in the November issue of Health Affairs.

The researchers, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund and former head of ONC, conducted an analysis of recent trends and review of scientific literature.

They say the U.S. healthcare system has reached a "digital tipping point" now that as many as 72 percent of office-based physicians have an EHR, 17 percent of consumers use e-health tools and 85 percent want to communicate with their providers via email or secure messaging.

The researchers predicted that if just 30 percent of community–based physicians fully implemented health IT in their offices, the demand for physicians would fall by as much as 9 percent. More care could be delegated from specialists to generalists, reducing the demand for specialists by up to 5 percent. Correspondingly, more care can be delegated to non-physicians, reducing the demand of physicians by as much as 7 percent.

At the same time, doctors would be able to meet the demands of an increased patient load due to increased efficiencies and increased interoperability could help address provider shortages in rural areas. The increased ability to telecommute might even cause physicians to delay their retirement.

"Arguably, few trends will change the future face of American healthcare as widely as health IT and e-health. It is essential that workforce planning analyses provide policy makers and stakeholders with evidence and ideas that support rational decision making and preparation for a future that is likely to be dramatically different from the past," the researchers concluded.

The study further demonstrates the growing and sometimes unanticipated impact of EHRs on the health care industry, including patient safety issues, billing changes and patient engagement.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract