Though some lag, doctor health IT access increasing

Physician access to health IT systems for their practices is growing, according to a recent national study by non-partisan research firm the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) which looked at the period between 2000-01 and 2004-05.

The study evaluated physician use of practice-based clinical information technology (IT) in five different areas: researching treatment alternatives or guidelines; sharing clinical data and images with other doctors; evaluating notes, medication lists or problem lists for patients; creating preventive treatment reminders for physician; and writing prescriptions, HSC said.

According to the study, between 2000-01 and 2004-05, the proportion of physicians reporting access to IT rose by as much as 5 percent. Changes seen in the proportion of physicians with access to IT for each of the clinical activities were:

  • Obtaining treatment guidelines grew from 52.9 percent  to 64.8 percent;
  • Exchange of clinical data with other doctors increased  from 40.6 percent to 50.1 percent;
  • Reviewing patient notes rose from 36.6 percent to 50.4  percent;
  • Generating reminders grew from 23.6 percent to 29.3  percent; and
  • Writing prescriptions increased 11.4 percent to 21.9  percent.

"Despite substantial growth rates across the five clinical activities — between 23 percent and 97 percent — many physicians still lack access to practice-based clinical information technology," said Marie Reed, MHS, data manager and study coauthor, HSC.

"For example, nearly 80 percent of physicians surveyed couldn't use IT to write prescriptions, and a third didn't have IT for the easiest-to-implement activity — accessing guidelines and treatment alternatives," Reed said.

Overall, practices using health IT for at least four of the clinical areas evaluated almost doubled during the study period, growing from 11.1 percent to 20.9 percent. And physicians working at practices that barely use IT — for instance utilizing it for one or less clinical function looked at — dropping from 50.6 percent to 37 percent, HSC said.