The federal government is set to roll out a massive incentive program aimed at making electronic record-keeping the standard in health care. But Connecticut doctors lag behind when it comes to making changes that experts say could save time and money, reduce medical errors and duplicate tests, and improve patient care.
Among state doctors, 25.8 percent used electronic medical records, and less than a quarter prescribed drugs electronically, according to a 2008 surveyhe Connecticut State Medical Society. In a national surveyted the same year by the National Center for Health Statistics, 41.5 percent of doctors reported using electronic medical records in their office-based practices.
Connecticut hospitals fared better. According to a recent study. less than 12 percent of U.S. hospitals used either basic or comprehensive electronic health record systems to track patients in 2009. In Connecticut, 7 of the 28 hospitals that responded to the survey reported using basic or comprehensive systems.
"It is an absolutely essential ingredient to making the health care system work better," said Dr. Ashish Jha, an associate professor of public health at Harvard and an author of the hospital study.
Proponents of electronic medical records say the potential benefits are immense. Prescriptions transmitted electronically don't carry the risk of a pharmacist misreading a doctor's handwriting, and some electronic records systems can check for possible negative drug interactions with other medications a patient takes.
Even more significantly, Jha said, electronic records that multiple health care providers can access could help avoid duplicated tests that commonly occur when patients receive care at two or more places that don't share records. Avoiding extra tests would save time, money, and, in the case of some tests, unnecessary exposure to radiation.
A 2005 study estimated that using electronic record systems that could share information between providers could save nearly $80 billion a year. Jha predicted the figure would now be closer to $100 billion.
"We are at such an abysmal level," he said of health providers' current use of EMRs.