Federal survey lacks critical definitions

A new federal survey points to a high overall level of satisfaction among physicians who’ve recently adopted EHRs.

But while researchers were careful to define some of the survey’s basic terms, the most critical definitions are nowhere to be found.

According to the survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “about three-quarters of physicians who have adopted an EHR system reported that their system meets federal ‘meaningful use’ criteria, eighty-five percent of physicians who have adopted an EHR system reported being somewhat (47 percent) or very (38 percent) satisfied with their system, (and) about three-quarters of adopters reported that using their EHR system resulted in enhanced patient care.”

Not surprisingly, researchers were clear in defining what is meant by such basic terms as “physician office” and “stand-alone and web-based EHR systems,” but no such clarity is provided for the report’s key findings. Specifically, what does it mean that physicians are “satisfied,” and what are the metrics being used to determine “enhanced patient care”? And while the report finds three-quarters of physicians who’ve adopted EHRs have found their way to systems that meet meaningful use (MU) criteria, those physicians do not seem to have been asked whether they were actually using all of those MU-approved attributes.

On one level, it may well simply have been beyond the scope of the project to dig into these kinds of details. But let’s be clear: This government report essentially trumpets “statistics” that promote the very outcomes policymakers are hoping to achieve via a host of public programs and the outlay of several billion taxpayer dollars.

Count us among those not surprised by the findings.

To be sure, there are some findings that policymakers can and should factor into their deliberations as they work to improve their ongoing programs. For example, the survey provides a good look at how EHR adoption varies according to the size of the practice. 
To wit: “Among solo practitioners, 29 percent were adopters of EHR systems. The proportion of physicians who were adopters increased as the size of the practice increased, with 60 percent of physicians in 2-physician practices, 62 percent of physicians in 3-to-10-physician practices, and 86 percent of physicians in practices with 11 or more physicians having adopted EHR systems.”

That’s the kind of information policymakers can use.

On the other hand, without specifics, reporting that physicians “express positive views” about their EHR systems and how those systems are “enhancing” their practices smacks way too loudly of public officials patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

Providers working to make the health IT transition, as well as the patients most affected by the results of those efforts, deserve better.

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