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 last month.

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.

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.

Primary care physician Andrew Bindman, MD, chief of general internal medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, stressed the need for improved IT systems, saying 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 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.

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.

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