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EHR Adoption Growing Despite Industry Challenges, ONC Reports

ONC reports that EHR and health IT adoption is growing, despite challenges with interoperability and data blocking.

By Sara Heath

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is making considerable progress in fostering ubiquitous adoption of EHRs and health IT, as well as promoting interoperability and health information exchange between those systems.

The agency reported all of that, among other things, in its latest report to Congress, which foremost chronicles the progress the healthcare industry has made toward implementing and effectively using health IT.

“Health information technology (health IT) is foundational to achieve the nation’s health and wellness goals,” ONC said in its report introduction. “Since the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, adoption and use of health IT by health care providers and hospitals significantly increased across the country. Health IT is now widely used by most hospitals and providers, and the electronic exchange of health information among these providers continues to increase.”

EHR use is on the up and up, the agency says, with nearly 97 percent of hospitals using a certified EHR system and about three quarters of providers having adopted one as well. Experts say this is due to the passage of the HITECH Act and meaningful use, which has incentivized the use of EHRs, spurring its widespread adoption.

To that end, providers are also using these systems to exchange digital health information, although at a more modest pace. Between 2013 and 2014, 23 percent more hospitals exchanged health information, with approximately 75 percent of them exchanging health information in 2014.

Fewer individual physicians engaged in the practice. In 2014, 42 percent of providers exchanged information with an entity within the healthcare organization, and only 26 percent exchanged with providers outside of their healthcare organization.

ONC acknowledged that interoperability was a considerable problem throughout the country, citing as a lack of standards and specificity as one of the main reasons for these challenges.

“Currently, there is insufficient specificity when it comes to standards implementation and not enough industry-wide testing of standards prior to nationwide deployment,” ONC explained. “There is also significant variation in how health IT stakeholders interpret and implement government policies and legal requirements. Health IT stakeholders are also reluctant to embrace supportive business practices that can reinforce and expand collaborative data use arrangements and foster meaningful consumer engagement and action.”

Going forward, ONC explains that it will continue its focus on interoperability and health information exchange (HIE). Through the use of its Interoperability Roadmap, as well as the Interoperability Standards Advisory, the agency hopes to make interoperability a national standard.

Despite the considerable issue of interoperability, EHRs have expanded the availability of health data for several other stakeholders. Between 2013 and 2014, patient access to health data increased by nearly a third, with four in ten patients being offered access to their health information in 2014. In total, 55 percent of those offered access viewed their patient portals at least once throughout the year.

Likewise, EHRs are being used to improve public health. By using the digitized information to report on public health topics, public health agencies are able to make overarching improvements to the industry. In 2014, 90 percent of eligible professionals successfully attested to public health reporting measures for meaningful use.

Despite the successful growth of health IT and EHRs, ONC still identified a few key areas where the industry can improve. Going forward, the agency will work to eliminate intentional data blocking, or the practice of keeping certain health information from being transferred from one health entity to another. Additionally, the agency will work to improve patient safety in the context of health IT use.

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