The phrase “tipping point” has been bandied about in healthcare for several years to signify an irreversible shift toward widespread acceptance of health-IT — as recently as last week in Digital HealthCare & Productivity
. A new study suggests that such a state finally is at hand in the oh-so-fickle physician market.
About 30 percent of 1,353 U.S. physicians surveyed this year by New York-based Manhattan Research say they are using electronic medical records (EMR), and the total includes not just those physicians in large, multispecialty group practices. “The trend remains, but the gap is closing” among smaller practices, says Manhattan Research president Mark Bard.
“When you start to hit 30 percent of primary care physicians or 40 percent of primary care physicians, then you’ll start to get something,” Bard says.
Still, putting a spin on a familiar phrase, Bard calls the result “a nice inflection point.” According to Bard, “There’s a really cool thing happening in the 25-to-30 percent range.” Not only do prices come down as the market builds, “You can start to spin off the ‘lighter’ versions of the software,” he says.
This means vendors have the income stream to adapt their EMR systems to smaller practices and can afford to put more of an effort into targeting the lower, less-lucrative end of the market. “We can start to spread these costs across the user base,” Bard says.
In addition to the 30 percent of respondents who say they have some form of EMR, another 20 percent report being “ready” to switch from paper to computers, though the term is rather subjective. Of course, that means half the country’s doctors are not ready for EMRs.
“The market still has a significant upside to go, but it’s exciting,” Bard says of the finding. He says that the in-depth interviews Manhattan Research conducted for the study reveal that many physicians want to know more about potential secondary uses of information captured by EMRs, including for pharmaceutical marketing and identification of potential subjects for clinical trials.
One area where health-IT may have turned the corner with physicians is in their interactions with patients. Earlier concern about “cyberchondriacs” bombarding doctors with reams of printouts from consumer-focused health Web sites is waning. Although 34 percent of respondents do not like when patients bring in information from the Internet, a healthy 65 percent approve.
Further, 31 percent of physicians say they are communicating with patients via e-mail, compared to 25 percent last year and 24 percent in 2004. “This year’s increase is one of the steepest seen in recent years,” Manhattan Research reports.
However, Bard notes that future growth in online interaction with patients will depend heavily upon whether physicians are reimbursed for their time.
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