Although research has shown that electronic medical records help reduce the risk of mistakes and improve outcomes, a new study suggests that only about 40% of hospitals nationwide have access to electronic patient data from outside their healthcare systems.
In a report published this week in the medical journal Health Affairs, researchers indicate that most hospitals not only lack access to that data, but most doctors indicate that they do not use patient electronic data when they do have access.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed data from more than 2,600 hospitals that responded to the American Hospital Association’s annual survey in 2014 and 2015. They also focused on data from a sample of 3,500 hospitals that responded to the 2015 supplement on information technology. This survey includes new questions on the use of electronic patient data from outside sources.
The study focused on the “interoperability” of hospitals, or facilities using electronic patient data from other healthcare systems to help better treat their patients. They focused on four electronic data areas: finding, sending, receiving, and integrating electronic patient information from outside providers.
Interoperability had small increases from 2014 to 2015. In 2014, less than 25% of hospitals were engaged in all four areas of interoperability. In 2015, that increased only to 30%.
The area of “sending,” saw increases of 8% from 2014 to 2015. Similarly, the area of “receiving” data increased 8.4% from 2014 to 2015. There was virtually no change in the area of “integrating systems.”
In the new study, only 19% of hospitals used patient data from outside providers. A total of 43% of hospitals said the outside patient data was available when necessary, yet less than one-quarter of the hospitals used it. In fact, one-third said they rarely or never use it.
Researchers indicate the results show hospitals’ progress toward “interoperability” is slow. It is highly focused on moving information between hospitals, but not on calling on doctors to use the information in clinical decisions, or in a way that is meaningful to help patients, despite electronic records providing better outcomes to patients.
Doctor’s indicated the most common barrier to using electronic data from other providers was not being able to see the information in their own systems’ electronic health record.
Prior research has suggested hospitals that implement or transition to electronic health records have lower mortality rates and lower readmission rates than hospitals that do not use electronic records, and access to digital medical records is seen as a way to communicate between providers and reduce the risk of mistakes or medical malpractice.