Hospitals and Doctors Lag Behind Information Age

Health care lags behind the information age, a new study found. Fewer than a third of hospitals and only 17 percent of doctors' offices check electronic records prior to treating patients or prescribing medicine.

Only 8 percent of physicians use a computerized physician order entry system. The setup, advocated by government officials, is designed to compare orders for drugs and diagnostic tests against dosing standards and a patient's medical records. The computerized system checks for allergies or drug interactions, and warns of potential patient problems.

The survey, released today, was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"The use of electronic records in health care lags far behind the computerization of information in other sectors of the economy," the report concludes.

"Electronic medical records and computerized systems offer opportunities to improve the quality of medical care in all settings as health care providers learn the potential of these systems and how to use them," said Catharine Burt, lead author of the study. "The majority of ambulatory care in this country is provided in physicians' offices but less than one in five doctors is using electronic medical records."

Physicians under age 50 are twice as likely as older physicians to use the computerized system, which has been advocated by the White House.

Officials also recommend use of automated drug dispensing systems, which like vending machines dole out the correct drug in proper dosage after a doctor's electronic input. The machines reduce medical errors, research has shown.

The new survey found the automatic dispensers are used more frequently by metropolitan hospitals and outpatient facilities associated with medical schools, compared with smaller and rural facilities.

"While national adoption rates for health information technology are slowly climbing, we are seeing a widening gap between larger hospitals and physician groups and their smaller counterparts," said David Brailer, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. "Physicians and providers face many barriers to adopting health information tools. We need to create incentives for providers to adopt electronic medical records and ensure the products they buy will do the job."

The survey covers a period from 2001 through 2003.