Survey: U.S. primary care docs lag on health IT access

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Primary care doctors in the United States are less likely than those in several other countries to have adopted health IT, according to the recent Commonwealth Fund 2006 International Health Policy Survey. About a quarter of primary care doctors in the U.S. (28 percent) and Canada (23 percent) use EMRs, compared with a large majority of primary care doctors in the Netherlands (98 percent), New Zealand (92 percent), the U.K. (89 percent) and Australia (79 percent).

"In an era of advanced computer systems, it's disturbing that the vast majority of primary care doctors in the U.S. don't have the tools to electronically prescribe medications, access patients' test results, or know when patients are overdue for essential care," said Cathy Schoen, senior vice president, Commonwealth Fund, and lead author of the article. "The data show that U.S. primary care doctors find it difficult or impossible to perform tasks that doctors in other countries find easy; they also practice without basic decision supports that could improve health outcomes and reduce costs."

The survey results also indicate that under a quarter of U.S. primary care doctors (23 percent) receive computerized alerts for potential harmful drug doses or interactions, in contrast with 93 percent in the Netherlands, 91 percent in the U.K., 87 percent in New Zealand, 80 percent in Australia, and 40 percent in Germany. Only Canada is worse off in this area, with just 10 percent of primary care physicians making use of the alerts.

U.S. primary care physicians also score badly in comparison with doctors in other countries when it comes to providing care to patients other than during working hours. Just 40 percent of U.S. primary care doctors report that they are able to offer such access; in the Netherlands the rate is 95 percent, and in the U.K. it is 87 percent.