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Why Does The U.S. Trail in EHR Adoption?

July 3, 2008
by Reece Hirsch
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A recent New York Times editorial got it right with the statement that if the U.S. "does not accelerate the conversion from paper" to electronic health records, "many of the gauzy promises of health care reform made by politicians and health planners will become irrelevant."Â The editorial cites a June New England Journal of Medicine study which found that "a paltry 4% of the doctors surveyed has a 'fully functional' [EHR] system that would allow them to view laboratory data, order prescriptions and help them make clinical decisions, while 13% had more basic systems."

According to a 2006 Commonwealth Fund survey cited by the editorial, the U.S. is significantly trailing other industrialized countries in EHR adoption. For example, in Australia, Great Britain, the Netherlands and New Zealand, a majority of physicians use EHRs. Denmark also has a comprehensive health information exchange that allows physicians to view patient health and prescription histories.

Why have these other countries outpaced the U.S. in implementing EHRs? The New York Times cites "strong national leadership in setting standards and helping to finance adoption." Both Obama and McCain are urging greater use of health IT. Let's hope that whoever is elected is able to back up that talk with the federal dollars necessary to drag U.S. physicians into the 21st century and out of the age of paper records.

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