Health IT Revolution Only Goes So Far, According to Survey

Health IT is in an age of revolution. New solutions to improve nearly every facet of its operation, including patient engagement, but despite these advancements, it remains in a state of flux. Based on a new study, those using, adopting and even those still trying to implement health IT remain skeptical of the claims vendors and IT evangelists have and continue to make.

Published by Physicians Practice magazine and sponsored by electronic health record and practice management software vendor, Kareo, in a survey of 1,442 physicians representing practices of all sizes – independent and hospital owned – the health IT issues are plenty and prevailing. In fact, even now in the post EHR pinnacle era where billions of federal dollars have been issued as part of the meaningful use incentive program, the most pressing tech problem faced is EHR implementation. There are other barriers, of course, and those vary.

For example, lack of EHR interoperability between systems is the second most pressing tech issue faced, according to the survey, as is the cost to implement the software solutions; managing the technology once it’s in place; keeping up with new technology; and even managing the meaningful use process – several years into the program. About 54 percent of practices currently have a fully implemented EHR and 20 percent of practices, according to the survey, have no system in place at all. About 17 percent have systems selected by their “parent” hospital company. Of those that don’t have an EHR in place, the number one barrier to entry is cost of the systems. Other barriers include practices not being able to find a product that meets their needs and lack of provider buy in, which at this point seems a bit surprising.

Of the practices that have not implemented an electronic health record, more than 10 percent of those respondents report having “heard horror stories” about implementation. Rumor, innuendo and phraseology have kept these providers from moving forward with putting technology in place. However, for those that have implemented the solutions, only 12 percent said the process was smooth sailing and 34 percent said it was more painful than it needed to be. It’s still a bit surprising that with how far the market has evolved and with the advancements in technology that only 12 percent of folks claim the process was smooth.

The complex implementation process can be a challenge, but with as many as 34 percent claiming the process was painful, this raises a lot of questions. For example, where their expectations too low or did they not understand the level of time and commitment that would be involved in the process? Did they not bring in the right support (like a consultant) or did they rely too heavily on their vendor partners, who often have goals that don’t necessarily match those of their clients – a quick implementation vs. one that is thorough and encourages education and understand by those new to the system.

An even more shocking revelation, though, is that more than 10 percent of respondents who have implemented an EHR called the experience traumatizing.  Something they would not “wish upon their worst enemy.” These are highly educated individuals who have witnessed some fairly major and potentially upsetting things – tragedy, death, grief and pain – and an IT experience left them traumatized.

Pause for a breath, and think about that. An IT experience is more traumatizing to this population than experiences they face that most of the rest of us would call the same.

Finally, there are couple more eye-opening bits of information in this survey. First, and maybe most importantly, of respondents with an EHR in place almost 60 percent say they have not seen a return on investment because of the system. Next, regarding investment in new technology, the numbers are pretty even, despite difficult experiences faced through a bad EHR implementation. Specifically, 38 percent say they will invest in new technology equally as much as they have in the past and 34 percent say they will invest more money in new tech. Despite this expected level of investment in new tech – likely new software systems to support the practices — there seems to be little correlation from how tech will be used in the back of the house compared to the front of the house. For example, 88 percent of respondents said they conducted no e-consults with patients and 59 percent say they are not considering telehealth technologies. With the level of enthusiasm for health IT in practice, it is a bit of a wonder why there’s not the same passion, in relation to health IT and its uses, as to the patient side of the house.

Seems the healthcare tech revolution, at this point, only goes so far.

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