US lags behind in health information technology use

April 5, 2010 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

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This is one area that the new US health reform is supposed to the address and it is really about time that it is addressed – the use of information technology in health care.

A 2009 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey reported that the US, despite having the highest health care expenditures in all the OECD countries, lags behind in the use of technology that can help doctors improve health care quality and reduce medical errors and, yes, eventually save money. Among the 11 developed countries surveyed, 46 % doctors in the US use electronic medical records. This is rather low compared to 99% of doctors in the Netherlands and 97% in New Zealand and Norway.

According to Cathy Schoen, Commonwealth Fund Senior Vice President and co-author of the report

“We spend far more than any of the other countries in the survey, yet a majority of U.S. primary care doctors say their patients often can’t afford care, and a wide majority of primary care physicians don’t have advanced computer systems to access patient test results, anticipate and avoid medication errors, or support care for chronically ill patients.”

However, HIT is not the only area wherein the US lags behind. Here are some key differences between the US and other countries surveyed in the report:

  • 58% of U.S. doctors (highest in the survey) report that their patients often cannot afford to pay for medications and care.
  • 50%of U.S. doctors believe they spend too much time dealing with the restrictions insurance companies place on patients’ care. 
  • Only 29 % of U.S. doctors’ practices have arrangements for getting patients after-hours care without resorting to hospital emergency room. This kind of arrangement is common practice the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the U.K.
  • American doctors are among those who are least likely to be offered financial incentives to improve quality of care.

On the positive side, only 28% of U.S. doctors report a long waiting time for their patients to see a specialist while more doctors in other countries report long waits.

The survey highlights some lessons for the American health care system that will hopefully be addressed in the not so distant future. According to Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis:

“Access barriers, lack of information, and inadequate financial support for preventive and chronic care undermine primary care doctors’ efforts to provide timely, high quality care and put the U.S. far behind what many other countries are able to achieve. Our weak primary care system puts patients at risk, and results in poorer health outcomes, and higher costs. The survey provides yet another reminder of the urgent need for reforms that make accessible, high-quality primary care a national priority.

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