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Achieving Health Information Technology's Potential to Improve Care is Daunting Task

NEJM Perspective Examines Need to Improve Care Processes and Usability of Electronic Health Records

Media Advisory
March 24, 2011

Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or

WASHINGTON , DC—While health information technology (HIT) holds great promise in helping clinicians improve patient care, realizing that potential will require progress on multiple fronts, according to a perspective by Ann S. O’Malley, M.D., M.P.H., a senior researcher at the Center for Studying Health system Change (HSC), published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A recent media account of the use of so-called scribes to take notes for physicians during patient encounters and enter the information into electronic health records (EHRs) “suggests how far we must go to develop EHRs that clinicians will embrace…. the perceived need for scribes and providers’ experiences using EHRs raise important questions about both the efficiency of care processes and the usability of current EHRs,” according to the article.

Research has shown that physicians are frustrated by the difficulty of using EHRs to support care delivery and care coordination and instead rely on EHRs primarily for documentation and billing purposes, according to the article.

“Clinical processes must evolve so as to improve care and be more responsive to patients’ needs, and HIT’s capabilities must evolve along with them,” the article states. “HIT has particular potential in such areas as coordination of care, workflow efficiency and use of teams, clinical decision support, and population health management—all areas offering glimpses of both the potential and the challenges associated with improved HIT use.”

The article also suggests that payment reforms that encourage providers to share accountability for patient outcomes could “offer clinicians incentives to demand HIT capabilities that better support the clinical tasks required to improve patients’ health and would make these activities important to the success of health care organizations.”

“Continued research on clinical care processes, the design and use of HIT, and payment reform, as well as ongoing support for clinicians, will be key to the effective and meaningful use of HIT,” the article concludes.
“Today’s EHRs do not sufficiently support aspects of care delivery that are vital to improving care and controlling costs.”

To access the NEJM article, “Tapping the Unmet Potential of Health Information Technology,” go to

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The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation’s changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research.



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