Survey: Larger, urban hospitals adopt health IT faster than smaller ones

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Health IT is accelerating across American hospitals, but we still have a long way to go toward universal adoption. Sixty-eight percent of U.S. hospitals reported using electronic health records (EHRs) in 2006, according to a survey conducted by the American Hospital Association (AHA) in fall 2006. These results from more than 1,500 community hospitals show us the most current use of hospital IT to date.

Further IT integration is shown each year that passes, with 46 percent of hospitals reporting high or moderate use in 2006, compared to 37 percent in 2005. Of the 68 percent of hospitals that have used EHRs, 11 percent report that they have fully implemented the practice, but these facilities tended to be large, urban, and/or teaching hospitals.

Health IT practices like computerized physician order-entry (CPOE), computerized alerts, and electronic patient data sharing, all gained ground in 2006. Ten percent of hospitals routinely ordered medications electronically in at least half of the time. Fifty-one percent of hospitals activated computerized alerts to prevent negative drug interactions, compared to only 23 percent in 2005. And about one-half of hospitals shared electronic patient data with private-practice physician offices, laboratories, payers, and other hospitals.

While these numbers show promise, the data reveal that larger and urban hospitals with greater financial resources are advancing faster than smaller and rural hospitals with less funding. IT helps hospitals and patients save money by avoiding repeat tests and readmitting patients, as well as providing shorter lengths of stay. To promote health IT in all kinds of hospitals, policymakers need to develop a shared investment for providers, payers, and purchasers, so hospitals will not be responsible for financing almost all of the costs of using these innovative IT technologies.