Docs slow to engage patients with IT

By Bernie Monegain
10:29 AM

A new study by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions indicates physicians are not using IT broadly to engage patients. No more than 20 percent of doctors are providing online scheduling or test results for their patients and just 6 percent are using social media to communicate with them, according to Deloitte.

The report, “Physician Perspectives on Health Information Technology,” shows that measured against the IT goals and deadlines prescribed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, only 25 percent of physicians are “on target” to meet the meaningful use incentives.

Doctors, however, are more confident about being able to satisfy the mandate to upgrade their medical billing and coding systems to comply with ICD-10 coding. Just 21 percent reported they would not be able to meet the Oct. 1, 2013 deadline. However, 62 percent of physicians cited managing ICD-10 documentation as a “major concern.”

Deloitte polled 501 physicians obtained as a random sample from the American Medical Association’s (AMA) master file of physicians. The responses were weighted by years in practice according to gender, region and practice specialty to reflect the national distribution of physicians in the AMA master file.

Harry Greenspun, MD, senior adviser for the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions and lead author of the report, says some parts of the survey demonstrate that physicians accept the value of health IT. Two-thirds of doctors say they use some form of electronic records to manage clinical information and a similar number believe IT can improve care long term.

“The voice of physicians today seems to have two components: one that accepts the value of information technology to improve quality and safety of care and another that expresses concern over its cost and potential to disrupt how they practice,” says Greenspun. “This dissonance is one reason why IT is not further entrenched in our healthcare system.”

However, Greenspun says he believes physicians will more readily adopt IT over the next two years as pressures mount to demonstrate value around evidence-based care, improved outcomes and reduced complications.

“Greater accountability will compel providers to a greater reliance on data, requiring that it be collected electronically, shared appropriately and analyzed methodically,” he said. “The key is to bring IT to the medical community in a way that enhances care while minimizing the costs and disruptions involved in implementation.”

Key findings from the report:

  • IT Cost Equals Opportunity for Assisting Doctors. The cost of IT related to investment and impact on productivity is the primary barrier to adoption, with 66 percent citing upfront financial investment as their primary concern and 54 percent saying this about operational disruptions. This creates an opportunity for organizations that can assist physicians with financing, implementation, workforce training and process redesign.
  • A Widening Technological Divide. Differences in the use of electronic health records among single versus group practices could widen health gaps among communities as some rural and urban areas are served by single practitioners and less likely to employ health IT. Nearly one-half (46 percent) of single practices do not use EHRs compared to 22 percent of group practices with 10 to 49 full-time employees. Furthermore, 45 percent of solo practices have no plans to use EHRs, compared to only 15 percent of practices with 10 to 49 full-time employees.
  • Losing Touch with Broader Issues. Although large group practices are more aggressively adopting IT, group member doctors seem less informed about what is driving the effort. More than one-third (39 percent) of physicians in practices with 10 or more full-time employees are not familiar with the Health and Human Services standards for ICD-10, compared with only 25 percent in solo practices. Large-group doctors may be more disconnected around macro issues because they have a layer of management absent in smaller settings. This raises the question:  Will management be able to drive change without physicians understanding the rationale? 
  • Winning Over Patients with Online Tools.  Providers seem to lag other industries in using IT to engage consumers despite growing demand. Deloitte’s 2011 Survey of Health Care Consumers in the United States shows growing consumer interest for secure messaging, access to personal health records and remote monitoring. Moreover, consumers trust information from physicians more than from employers or insurance companies, according to the survey, creating an edge for physician groups to gain market share via online engagement.