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ONC: Physician HIE increasing, still 'room for improvement'

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EHRs are helping physicians progress in their ability to share data electronically, but capability still varies widely, according to the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT's latest study of EHRs and interoperability.

The study, published in the American Journal of Managed Care, surveyed 4,326 office-based physicians in 2011. ONC found that two-thirds (67 percent) were able to view lab results electronically and more than half (55 percent) had e-prescribing capability. Forty-two percent were able to incorporate lab results into their EHRs and almost a third (31 percent) could exchange patient clinical summaries with other providers. Some physicians had the electronic capability from standalone systems, such as an e-prescribing system; however, capability was more compensative for physicians who had adopted EHRs. Not surprisingly, very few physicians without some electronic system were able to easily exchange information.

The study also revealed substantial variation in electronic data exchange by geographic region and by EHR vendor. For instance, the capability to receive lab results ranged from 88 percent in Wisconsin to 44 percent in Louisiana; electronic lab ordering ranged from 58 percent in Washington to a scant 19 percent in Delaware. 

This disparity mirrors findings recently reported by the Government Accountability Office and CMS which found wide geographic and other variations as to which providers successfully attested to Meaningful Use.

In addition, there were "large differences" in interoperability among vendors, some of which had designed products that used outdated technology which did not support data sharing. The study speculated that this will diminish as physicians upgrade or purchase newer EHRs and progress to Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program and payment/delivery reform, both of which require more interoperability.

ONC noted that there was still "room for improvement" but that the use of EHRs was laying a "foundation" for further data sharing among providers.

"[W]hile most physicians possess the capability to meet certain HIE-related meaningful use requirements such as e-prescribing, physicians are less prepared to meet other upcoming stage 2 core HIE requirements such as clinical care summary exchange. It will be important to monitor these key measures of exchange capability," the study states.  

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the GAO report

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