U.S. Doctors Behind in Adoption of Electronic Records

Very few American physicians use electronic records or prescriptions, according to a study by Harris Interactive, which puts the U.S. health system far behind many English-speaking countries.

Many experts agree the use of information technology in keeping patient records or prescribing medication could significantly improve the quality of care and reduce medical errors. But implementing these changes can be slow, difficult and expensive. In many cases there are no financial, or other, incentives to physicians or health systems to implement them.

According to the survey, which was conducted for the Harvard School of Public Health and the Commonwealth Fund’s International Health Care Symposium, the proportions of primary care physicians who were (sometimes) using electronic medical records were 17 percent in the United States, 14 percent in Canada, 25 percent in Australia, 52 percent in New Zealand and 59 percent in the Britain. The proportions of primary care physicians who were “often” using electronic prescribing were 9 percent in the United States, 8 percent in Canada, 44 percent in Australia, 52 percent in New Zealand and 87 percent in the Britain.

Among medical specialists, the use of electronic medical records and electronic prescribing was even lower than among primary care physicians, except in Canada where it was slightly higher. The United States, however, still trails the other countries with the lowest proportions of specialists using either electronic medical records or prescribing.

Why is the United States so far behind? In countries with national health services, or universal government-funded health insurance, there is a single payer (whether that is the federal or state, or provincial government). The single payer sets the rules. If the single payer says physicians must use electronic systems, they will do so. They can also dictate a single nationwide system. The U.S. system, which has thousands of different employer-provided health plans, hundreds of insurers and managed care plans, and 50 state Medicaid systems, is much more complicated. This makes it more difficult and more expensive to introduce new electronic systems.


Physicians Using Electronic
Records & Prescriptions
Country Records Prescriptions
U.S. 17% 9%
Canada 14% 8%
Australia 25% 44%
New Zealand 52% 52%
Britain 59% 87%
Source: Harris Interactive

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