Hospital EMR Adoption Divide Widening, With Critical Access Hospitals Lagging

Posted on September 8, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

I don’t know about you, but I was a bit skeptical when HIMSS Analytics rolled out its EMRAM {Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model) research program. As some of you doubtless know, EMRAM breaks EMR adoption into eight stages, from Stage 0 (no health IT ancillaries installed) to Stage 7 (complete EMR installed, with data analytics on board).

From its launch onward, I’ve been skeptical about EMRAM’s value, in part because I’ve never been sure that hospital EMR adoption could be packaged neatly into the EMRAM stages. Perhaps the research model is constructed well, but the presumption that a multivariate process of health IT adoption can be tracked this way is a bit iffy in my opinion.

On the other hand, I like the way the following study breaks things out. New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association looks at broader measures of hospital EHR adoption, as well as their level of performance in two key categories.

The study’s main goal was to assess the divide between hospitals using their EHRs in an advanced fashion and those that were not. One of the key steps in their process was to crunch numbers in a manner allowing them to identify hospital characteristics associated with high adoption in each of the advanced use criteria.

To conduct the research, the authors dug into 2008 to 2015 American Hospital Association Information Technology Supplement survey data. Using the data, the researchers measured “basic” and “comprehensive” EHR adoption among hospitals. (The ONC has created definitions for both basic and advanced adoption.)

Next, the research team used new supplement questions to evaluate advanced use of EHRs. As part of this process, they also used EHR data to evaluate performance management and patient engagement functions.

When all was said and done, they drew the following conclusions:

  • 80.5% of hospitals had adopted a basic EHR system, up 5.3% from 2014
  • 37.5% of hospitals had adopted at least 8 (of 10) EHR data sets useful for performance measurement
  • 41.7% of hospitals adopted at least 8 (of 10) EHR functions related to patient engagement

One thing that stood out among all the data was that critical access hospitals were less likely to have adopted at least 8 performance measurement functions and at least eight patient engagement functions. (Notably, HIMSS Analytics research from 2015 had already found that rural hospitals had begun to close this gap.)

“A digital divide appears to be emerging [among hospitals], with critical-access hospitals in particular lagging behind,” the article says. “This is concerning, because EHR-enabled performance measurement and patient engagement are key contributors to improving hospital performance.”

While the results don’t surprise me – and probably won’t surprise you either – it’s a shame to be reminded that critical access hospitals are trailing other facilities. As we all know, they’re always behind the eight ball financially, often understaffed and overloaded.

Given their challenges, it’s predictable that critical access hospitals would continue lag behind in the health IT adoption curve. Unfortunately, this deprives them of feedback which could improve care and perhaps offer a welcome boost to their efficiency as well. It’s a shame the way the poor always get poorer.