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US Healthcare IT on the Move

The US healthcare sector has made "significant strides" in adopting new health information technologies, particularly electronic health records, over the last several years, but still lags behind other developed nations in the use of EHRs, according to a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

RWJF says that in 2012, 44 percent of hospitals reported having basic electronic health record systems, an increase of 17 percentage points from 2011. Most of that boost was spurred by federal investments, the foundation says.

"Since 2010, when health care providers began receiving federal funding to encourage EHR adoption, the proportion of hospitals with at least a basic EHR has nearly tripled," the foundation notes.

The report, “Health Information Technology in the United States: Better Information Systems for Better Care, 2013,” also finds that 38.2 percent of physicians say they had adopted basic EHR functionalities by 2012.

The use of HIT tools also has picked up significantly, with 42 percent of hospitals in 2012 reporting the implementation of all functionalities that are required to meet the standards for the federal "Meaningful Use" program, up from 18.4 percent in 2011 and 4.4 percent in 2010.

The hospitals most likely to have at least basic EHR use in 2012 are large, major teaching, private nonprofit hospitals, the report, which was co-authored by Mathematica Policy Research and the Harvard School of Public Health, finds.

The report also finds that hospitals are beginning now to move beyond a phase in which they are implementing EHR technologies and starting to find new ways to use them.

RWJF says that the rise of EHRs can be attributed to two major pieces of legislation, the Health Information Technology for Clinical and Economic Health provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Care Act.

The National Human Genome Research Institute has placed a special emphasis on electronic health and medical records. It launched the eMERGE network in 2007, a consortium that aims to bring genomics, statistics, and IT efforts together and to link DNA databases with EMRs.

Just last week, NHGRI awarded $12.8 million to fund the creation of a clinical genomics consortium that will use electronic health records to connect genetic information to clinical care and outcomes.