When Physicians Own Practice, EMR Implementation Feels Tougher

Posted on January 30, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Here’s an EMR adoption study which interested me largely because it runs counter to what I would have predicted.  The study, which surveyed physicians pre- and post- EMR implementation, found that doctors who owned a stake in their practice found their rollout to be tougher than physicians who didn’t have a stake.

I don’t know about you, but I would have assumed that the folks with more control — the owners — would have found it easier than those who have to adapt to the decisions others make.  But it seems that physician-owners simply feel the pain of change more acutely.

To conduct the study, which was published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association,  researchers surveyed 156 physicians working with the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative.  The surveys included a pre-implementation questionnaire  in 2005 and a post-implementation questionnaire in 2009.

Thirty-five percent of doctors who responded reported that implementation was very difficult, 54 percent said it was somewhat difficult and 12 percent not difficult. Those numbers square pretty well with what I’ve seen elsewhere. The twist here was that 38 percent of physicians with full or partial ownership stakes in their practices voted “very difficult,” versus 27 percent of non-owners. That surprised me. After all, aren’t most of the complaints coming from doctors who try to use the new systems?

According to Marshall Fleurant, MD, one of the study’s authors, the owners “probably experienced more underlying challenges associated with EHR implementation and workflow transformation” given their broader operational responsibilities.

While this study is interesting, it’s hardly the last word. Teasing out just which factors predict how doctors will react to EMR implementation, much less what it takes to support them, is still a new science.  But it never hurts to bear in mind that physicians making critical management decisions get support, too.