A new study appearing in The American Journal of Managed Care concludes that one of the key factors influencing health IT adoption by small primary care practices is the availability of external incentives.
To conduct the study, researchers surveyed 566 primary care groups with eight or fewer physicians on board. Their key assumption, based on previous studies, was that PCPs were more likely to adopt HIT if they had both external incentives to change and sufficient internal capabilities to move ahead with such plans.
Researchers did several years’ worth of research, including one survey period between 2007 and 2010 and a second from 2012 to 2013. The proportion of practices reporting that they used only paper records fell by half from one time period to the other, from 66.8% to 32.3%. Meanwhile, the practices adopted higher levels of non-EMR health technology.
The mean health IT summary index – which tracks the number of positive responses to 18 questions on usage of health IT components – grew from 4.7 to 7.3. In other words, practices implemented an average of 2.6 additional health IT functions between the two periods.
Utilization rates for specific health IT technologies grew across 16 of the 18 specific technologies listed. For example, while just 25% of practices reported using e-prescribing tech during the first period of the study, 70% reported doing so during the study’s second wave. Another tech category showing dramatic growth was the proportion of practices letting patients view their medical record, which climbed from one percent to 19% by the second wave of research.
Researchers also took a look at the impact factors like practice size, ownership and external incentives had on the likelihood of health IT use. As expected, practices owned by hospitals instead of doctors had higher mean health IT scores across both waves of the survey. Also, practices with 3 to 8 physicians onboard had higher scores than those were one or two doctors.
In addition, external incentives were another significant factor predicting PCP technology use. Researchers found that greater health IT adoption was associated with pay-for-performance programs, participation in public reporting of clinical quality data and a greater proportion of revenue from Medicare. (Researchers assumed that the latter meant they had greater exposure to CMS’s EHR Incentive Program.)
Along the way, the researchers found areas in which PCPs could improve their use of health IT, such as the use of email of online medical records to connect with patients. Only one-fifth of practices were doing so at the time of the second wave of surveys.
I would have liked to learn more about the “internal capabilies” primary care practices would need, other than having access to hospital dollars, to get the most of health IT tools. I’d assume that elements such as having a decent budget, some internal IT expertise and management support or important, but I’m just speculating. This does give us some interesting lessons on what future adoption on new technology in healthcare will look like and require.