Primary care docs' use of EHRs is up, but problems still persist

A survey of nearly 8,500 primary care physicians identifies challenges.

Sixty-nine percent of U.S. primary care physicians reported using electronic medical records in 2012 – up from 46 percent in 2009, according to findings from the 2012 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey.

Primary care physicians in the U.S. – the only country in the study without universal health coverage – stand out in the survey, with 59 percent reporting that their patients often cannot afford care.

By comparison, between 4 percent and 25 percent of physicians reported affordability problems for their patients in Norway (4 percent), the U.K. (13 percent), Switzerland (16 percent), Germany (21 percent) and Australia (25 percent). Moreover, more than half of U.S. doctors (52 percent) said insurance restrictions on their care decisions are a major time concern – by far the highest rate in the 10-country survey. U.S. physicians also were the most negative about their country’s health system, with only 15 percent agreeing the health care system works well.

The survey of nearly 8,500 primary care physicians in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, finds that communication and teamwork across the health system is a challenge in all countries.

In each, only a minority of primary care doctors reported always receiving timely information from specialist physicians after referring patients to them. In the U.S., just 11 percent of physicians said they had such information available when it was needed. And from one-third to more than half of doctors across countries said they are not always notified when their patients leave the hospital.

In the study, “A Survey of Primary Care Doctors in Ten Countries Shows Progress in the Use of Health Information Technology, Less in Other Areas,” the U.S. stands out for having the lowest rates of after-hours care with 34 percent of U.S. physicians reporting they provided options for their patients to receive after-hours care, compared with 95 percent in the U.K; 94 percent in the Netherlands; 90 percent in New Zealand; and 89 percent in Germany.

“The U.S. spends far more on medical care than the other countries we surveyed, yet our doctors are telling us their patients can’t afford care, they don’t always have the patient information they need, they spend too much time dealing with insurance companies, and we need major change,” said Commonwealth Fund Senior Vice President Cathy Schoen, lead author of the study. “The insurance expansions under the Affordable Care Act will make care more affordable – but we also need to simplify insurance to free up physicians to provide timely access to high-quality care for their patients.”

U.S., Canada lag behind on functionality
According to the survey, while the U.S. and Canada have made improvements in health information technology use, both countries continue to lag behind the leaders in EMR use and the range of functions supported by practice systems.

Just 27 percent of U.S. physicians and 10 percent of Canadian practices indicated their systems have multi-functional capacity, with the ability to: generate patient information, such as medication lists; manage patient registries, such as seeing which patients are overdue for care; order prescriptions or diagnostic tests electronically; or provide decision support, such as alerts about drug interactions. In contrast, 68 percent of U.K. practices and 59 to 60 percent of New Zealand and Australian practices reported having such multi-functional capacity.

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