MMS: Survey: MDs Slow To Use IT In Clinical Practice

WALTHAM — A statewide survey of physicians released recently shows that, while nearly 75{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of all physicians believe computers are becoming a necessity in clinical practice, most doctors have been quicker to use such technology in their practices for administrative rather than clinical applications.
The study, Computers in Clinical Practice, was undertaken in the spring by the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) in conjunction with the University of Hong Kong Department of Community Medicine (UHK) to assess the level of computerization in Massachusetts clinical practices in outpatient settings and to evaluate the attitudes of physicians toward the use of information technology. The project was co-sponsored by UHK because it had done a similar study previously for the Hong Kong physician population.

“The results clearly show that physicians understand the advantages of using information technology,” said Thomas E. Sullivan, M.D., MMS president. “We know computerization can provide benefits for quality improvement, patient safety, and enhanced efficiency. We’ve made great strides on the administrative side, but, despite widespread recognition of how useful it can be, we’re progressing slowly on the clinical side.”

More than 5,000 Massachusetts physicians were asked to participate, with 423 answering the survey for a response rate of 8.5{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}. The survey is the first of its kind for Massachusetts doctors, and occurs during a period in which public and private health officials at national and local levels are focusing increasingly on electronic applications in medicine, such as E-prescriptions and electronic medical records (EMRs). The ultimate objectives of such efforts are to streamline the health care delivery system, reduce costs, free physician time for more patient care, and increase patient safety.

The survey found that most physicians have already implemented computerization for such administrative functions as patient scheduling (71{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}), billing and payment systems (71{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}), making claims (69{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}), registration of patient details (71{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}), managing practice finances (67{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}), and payroll (62{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}).

The survey also found that doctors believe computers can have a substantial impact on health care:

• 84{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} agree that computers can significantly improve the quality of patient care;
• 78{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} think computers have beneficial effect on interactions within the health care team;
• 75{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} believe computers have a beneficial effect on the quality of health care; and
• 69{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} think that computers can significantly improve the quality of recording and tracking treatment records.

While the survey showed physicians to be overwhelmingly positive about the use of information technology in medical practices, it also revealed a disparity between what doctors believe and what they intend to do with regard to using information technology.:

• 85{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} believe doctors should computerize writing prescriptions, yet 49{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} do not intend to do so;
• 89{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} believe doctors should computerize recording patient summaries, yet 48.5{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} do not intend to do so; and
• 83{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} believe doctors should computerize recording treatment records, yet 48.7{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} do not intend to do so.

Sullivan said that time and start-up costs, such as investing in more computers and computer training of staff, are probably the two biggest reasons for the divide between what physicians believe they should do and what they actually intend to do.

“The physician community has much work to do,” he said, “to convince itself that computerization really has tangible benefits for both the patient and the doctor. However, the strides we are currently making with introducing affordable, electronic prescription writing and with newer electronic medical records systems should yield positive returns in the very near future.”