More Details From Study: Health IT Could Cut Demand For Physicians

Posted on December 11, 2013 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.

Earlier, we wrote up the following study, which strongly suggests that health IT can boost physician productivity. But we didn’t include some of the details you’ll see below — and we thought they were important enough for a follow-up.

Much of the talk about health IT in physicians’ offices addresses the struggles doctors face when adopting new technologies, and the effort it takes to get productivity back to normal levels. But this study takes things a step further, asserting that if health IT was fully and widely implemented, it could reduce demand for physicians substantially.

The study, which originally appeared in Health Affairs, concluded that if health IT were fully implemented in 30 percent of community-based physicians’ offices, efficiency improvements would cut demand for physicians by 4 percent to 9 percent. What’s more, using health IT to delegate work to midlevel practitioners and from specialists to primary care docs could reduce demand for physicians by 6 percent to 12 percent, according to a story in Information Week.

Meanwhile, growing the amount of IT-enabled remote and asynchronous care could cut the volume of overall care that physicians provide could  have a big impact as well. Remote care could cut the percentage of care that physicians provide by 2 percent to 5 percent, and asynchronous care by 4 percent to  7 percent, Information Week reports.

And that isn’t all. If 70 percent of office-based docs adopted comprehensive IT support, including interoperable EMRs, clinical decision support, provider order entry and patient Web portals with secure messaging, the drop in demand for physician services would be twice as large, the Health Affairs study concluded.

That being said, the comprehensive use of health IT by even 30 percent of office-based doctors is at least five years and maybe as much as 15 years away, according to one of the study’s authors, Jonathan Weiner, professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.