U.S. lags behind in primary care IT, survey finds

By Chip Means
12:00 AM

WASHINGTON – The United States is well behind the rest of the industrial world in IT implementation and other areas of primary care, according to a Commonwealth Fund 2006 International Health Policy Survey released Thursday.

The findings of the survey, which evaluated primary care systems in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the Netherlands, were presented at the Commonwealth Fund’s International Symposium on Healthcare Policy in Washington.

Evaluations were based on criteria such as access to primary care, insurance, drug safety systems, quality incentives, use of teams, and IT implementation. The survey found that some of the widest gaps between leading and lagging countries were in the IT category.

The survey found that IT implementation has been especially hindered in the United States and Canada due to reliance on “market-driven individual care systems or physician investment.” While nearly half of U.K. doctors used electronic medical records in 2006 as a result of national investments in IT capacity, only 28 percent of U.S. doctors used electronic records this year.

Robin Osborn, vice president and director of the Commonwealth Fund’s International Program in Health Policy and Practice, said that all nations except for the United Kingdom lack systems that effectively track medical errors. “The findings depict a time of reform around primary care in all seven countries,” Osborn said.

Additionally, the United States was identified as the only nation surveyed that does not currently have a national plan to support extended primary care IT capacity.

Primary care physician Andrew Bindman, MD, chief of general internal medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, stressed the need for improved IT systems, saying that doctors across the globe are dissatisfied with the amount of time they have to administer care. “The complexity of ambulatory care is growing,” he said. “We’re not just handing out band aids.”

Bindman said that the implementation of an electronic referral system was the single best IT decision made in his network, because it gives doctors more adequate time for treatment. “We can’t do it all in primary care,” he said. “One of the most important things we can do is improve the links to specialists, hospitals, and community-based services.”

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