Adoption and use of health IT increased significantly from 2009 to 2012, though there is a sizable gap between the adoption levels of large and small practices.

A study by The Commonwealth Fund measured changes in health IT use over that four-year period. The study found that the percentage of physicians able to electronically send prescriptions to pharmacies rose from 34% to 66% and electronic prescribing increased from 40% to 64% over that timeframe. Adoption of electronic records is where the difference between practice sizes was most pronounced: Only half of solo physicians use EMRs, while more than 90% of physicians in practices with 20 or more physicians do so.

A lack of resources is one explanation why independent physicians and smaller practices aren’t turning to health IT solutions at the same rate as larger ones. Independent physicians’ responses to an athenahealth Inc. survey reflected this sentiment. Fewer than half of independent physicians not associated with hospitals felt the financial and care benefits of EHRs exceeded the costs, while greater than half of their employed peers felt the same.

Independent physicians’ unwillingness to take on major business costs (including those associated with EHRs) is likely contributing to the shrinking number of independent doctors in the U.S. Statistics from Accenture show the percentage of independents sunk from 57% in 2000 to just 39% in 2012. A large majority (87%) of doctors cited business costs and expenses as a top concern and a reason why they’d consider abandoning their independent status.

A data brief from the National Center of Health Statistics (NCHS) focused on physicians’ widespread use of EHR technology. The NCHS data showed that in 2013 78% of all office-based physicians were using some type of EHR, an increase from  18%  in 2001 — something Karen Desalvo, national coordinator for health IT, noted in a recent blog post. Meaningful use incentives are driving many providers to adopt EHR systems. The NCHS brief reported that 69% of physicians intend to participate in the Medicaid or Medicare EHR incentive programs, though only 13% of them had EHR systems in place to support 14 of the 17 stage 2 core objectives. Those statistics represent a fear of independent physicians — adopting an EHR system without qualifying for reimbursement payments.

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