Physician Health IT Capabilities Not Meeting Consumer Demand

Despite high consumer demand for online access to health information and communication tools, providers lag in their health IT capabilities, according to the Optum Institute’s new “Meaningful Consumer Engagement” report. The report summarized results of an online survey that included more than 4,000 physicians, hospital executives, and adult healthcare consumers.

Snapshot: Key Online Healthcare Functions

The survey found that three-quarters of patients want to view their medical records and lab test results online, but that only 41% of physicians have electronic medical record (EMR) systems that support timely access to this information. Likewise, more than 60% of patients want to correspond with their doctors via the Internet, while only 44% of physicians have this capability. Consumers both young and old expressed their interest in engaging via health IT. For instance, 57% of consumers over age 65 expressed interest in online correspondence with healthcare providers, a number that is only slightly lower than the general population.

In spite of the lag in online physician-patient connections, Optum’s survey did find a positive trend in physician adoption of EMR, with 70% of healthcare providers having EMR systems capable of basic functions such as recording diagnoses and patient demographics. Over half of physicians also have EMRs that support basic care coordination; for instance, 60% can access patients’ clinical lab and test results online.

Stage 2 of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Meaningful Use Program (MU2) aims to improve the sharing of such information with patients by giving physicians incentive payments to expand their IT capabilities. However, MU2 only requires 50% of patients to have access to their electronic health records, and 5% to use online tools. Since the number of consumers that want these capabilities is much higher, Optum believes MU2 has set the bar too low to meet consumer demand.