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Health Care

Doctors Gone Digital

Going in for a checkup with your physician? You'll probably see a screen, too.

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(John Moore/Getty Images)

Scores of filing cabinets containing thousands of patient medical records are disappearing into the cloud.

Use of electronic health records systems in doctors' offices has doubled in recent years, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

In 2012, 72 percent of office-based physicians reported using electronic health records, up from 35 percent in 2007, the CDC says.

The report finds that adoption of electronic health records was higher among younger physicians compared with older physicians, among primary-care physicians rather than specialty doctors, and among larger practices than smaller.

This digital revolution among doctors is driven in part by the stimulus bill, which created a system for incentive payments to Medicare and Medicaid physicians who could use electronic health records to improve patient care.

 

While there's plenty of anecdotes of patients irritated by their doctors looking at a screen during their appointment, early evidence shows using electronic health records can improve health outcomes. Online systems can remind physicians when patients are due for vaccinations and prescription refills, as well as offer a complete snapshot of the patient's health history so that doctors can make more informed decisions about treatment.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is helping guide implementation of the Hitech Act reforms. Led by Karen DeSalvo, the office is currently navigating the process of getting different electronic health systems to talk to each other—a process known as interoperability.

"We have made impressive progress on our infrastructure, but we have not reached our shared vision of having this interoperable system where data can be exchanged and meaningfully used to improve care," DeSalvo said at a recent health information-technology conference.

With electronic health records systems being put to use in thousands of doctors' offices nationwide, the next step is to be able to transfer patient data across systems, allowing patients with complex conditions to share their medical information with specialty doctors and hospitals.

 

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