Practice owners struggle with EHR adoption

January 25, 2012

Physician practice owners struggle to implement EHR systems more than non-owners, a recent study shows. Your success may depend on those whom you least suspect.

Physician practice owners struggle more with implementing electronic health record (EHR) systems than do non-owners, according to a first-of-its-kind study published this month.

The Journal of American Medical Informatics Association published the results of a survey of 163 Massachusetts office-based doctors who were members of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative, a payer-funded program that provided free EHR systems and consultation regarding workflow redesign and system integration.

Of the respondents, 67% of physicians owned or partially owned their practices. Thirty-seven percent of respondents were primary care doctors.

More than one in three (35%) of the physicians reported that the EHR system implementation process was very difficult, and 54% found the process to be somewhat difficult. Of the doctors who reported the most difficulty, 38% were practice owners or co-owners.

After analyzing the survey results, the researchers found that physicians who indicated that their office staff members were “innovative” were less likely to view the implementation process as difficult or very difficult, compared with doctors who did not indicate that their staff members were innovative. Also, physicians who reported using more of their systems’ functions were less likely to view the implementation process as difficult or very difficult.

“The most surprising thing we found was that the physicians’ perception of having an innovative staff helped with implementation,” Marshall Fleurant, MD, study co-author and clinical educator at Boston University’s Department of Medicine, tells eConsult. “I don’t think we focus enough on how non-medical staff can help.”

The survey questions didn’t inquire about the staff members’ positions at the practice, but Fleurant said that the investigators later discovered during their analysis that clinical and non-clinical staff members were viewed as technology and project management assets during EHR system implementations.

Researchers were surprised that so many doctors reported a high difficulty level even though they were free to choose any EHR vendor and the systems were entirely paid for by the eHealth Collaborative.

“That’s a big deal. The physicians didn’t have to shell out for this, and that makes a big difference in their success rates,” Fleurant says. “But believe it or not, the owners still found it more difficult and they got it for free.”

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