Patients May Pay the Price for Non-use of Electronic Health Records


Use of electronic health records (EHR) by physicians has been increasing steadily since passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, a provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  HITECH imposes financial penalties for physicians who do not adopt EHR use.  A new study in Annals of Internal Medicine reports that in 2013 63% of physicians in the study had adopted an EHR system that meets the criteria established in the Act.  Another 20% were working toward implementation, 8% were in the planning stages and the remaining 9% said they did not plan to use an EHR.

Physicians who do not plan to establish an EHR are generally older and part of small fee-for-service practices.  Since the penalties imposed concern adjustments to Medicare payments for providers not implementing an EHR they are not likely to be impacted financially.  However, their patients may suffer as a consequence.

In addition to providing a mechanism to decrease health care costs, EHRs are meant to improve care coordination resulting in the provision of high quality care.  Patients of a non-EHR physician needing care outside of the practice, especially in an emergency situation, may be at a disadvantage because their history is not readily available to those providing care.  Also a drawback for patients is their own lack of access to their medical history.  Another way EHRs help improve quality is by more actively involving the patient in care by giving them ready access to test results, prescriptions and follow-up notes, enabling them to ask informed questions that help them make educated decisions.  Patients of a non-EHR practice may find themselves having to take on the traditional patient role, requiring complete dependence on their physician, instead of being able play the more modern part of an empowered and proactive patient.

By Janis O’Meara, MPA