Listen up, docs: HIT could save your job

By Erin McCann
10:42 AM
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Listen up, docs: HIT could save your job

If more office-based docs got on board with health information technology solutions, they'd be able to see more patients while also lightening their overall workload, according to the findings of a new Johns Hopkins study. 

The study, conducted in collaboration with folks at the Commonwealth Fund, underscores the impact of electronic health applications on the future of physician services, suggesting that perhaps, just perhaps, the physician shortage won't be as big of a problem as we thought. 

Any provider or hospital who's ever implemented an EHR or deployed an HIT system knows they're a lot of work -- and a lot of money. So when doctors are still in the middle of trying to launch these multi-million dollar systems without going under, numbers are important. 

Study researchers estimate that when EHRs and other eHealth systems are fully implemented in just 30 percent of community-based physicians’ offices, docs will be able to meet the demands of about 4 to 9 percent more patients than they can today due primarily to increased efficiency.

[See also: EHR adoption flying high.]

Further, when fully embracing health IT, delegation of care to nurse practitioners and physician assistants could reduce the future demand for docs by up to 7 percent.  

Reportedly, e-referral systems could also help reduce the national demand for specialists by another 2 to 5 percent as specialist physicians are able to delegate care to generalists.   

If you're one of those docs who's resistant toward new technologies, better get onboard fast. Virtual visits are here, and they're only increasing. Health IT applications, like telemedicine and secure patient-doctor digital communication, could address regional doctor shortages by enabling 12 percent of care to be delivered remotely by doctors living in other locations, researchers say. 

And that number is a modest projection, at the very least. If docs and their patients adopted comprehensive eHealth more widely, that number would soar. 

"The results of our study are important because they provide a forward looking snapshot of how health IT will profoundly impact the American health care workforce over the next decade or two," explained Jonathan Weiner, the study's lead author and professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School and director of the Center for Population Health Information Technology, in a press statement. "When all of these likely effects are added together, it is clear that health IT will help resolve future physician shortages that many believe are around the corner."

So full force health IT adoption can mean big things for docs, but the implementation and costs of these systems -- even with EHR incentive money -- can often bring smaller providers red balance sheets. 

According to CMS data, as of September 2013, some $16.6 million has been paid out to eligible providers and hospitals that have met meaningful use requirements.