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Physician Access to Clinical Information Technology Grows

But Many Physician Practices Still Lack IT for Patient Care

News Release
June 7, 2006

Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or

WASHINGTON, DC—Physician access to practice-based clinical information technology (IT) grew significantly between 2000-01 and 2004-05, according to a national study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

"While gains in physician practice-based IT for patient care are encouraging, there’s still a long way to go," said Paul B. Ginsburg, Ph.D., president of HSC, a nonpartisan policy research organization funded primarily by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The study examined whether physician practices used information technology for the following five clinical activities: obtaining information about treatment alternatives or recommended guidelines; exchanging clinical data and images with other physicians; accessing patient notes, medication lists or problem lists; generating preventive treatment reminders for the physician’s use; and writing prescriptions.

Based on HSC’s nationally representative Community Tracking Study Physician Survey, the study’s findings are detailed in a new HSC Data Bulletin—Growing Availability of Clinical Information Technology in Physician Practices—available here.

The 2000-01 survey contains information on about 12,000 physicians and had a 59 percent response rate, and the 2004-05 survey includes information from more than 6,600 physicians and had a 52 percent response rate.

Between 2000-01 and 2004-05, the proportion of physicians reporting access to IT for each of the five clinical activities grew by at least 5 percentage points. Changes in the proportion of physicians with access to IT for each of the clinical activities between 2000-01 and 2004-05 are as follows:

  • Obtaining treatment guidelines grew from 52.9 percent to 64.8 percent.
  • Exchanging clinical data with other physicians grew from 40.6 percent to 50.1 percent.
  • Accessing patient notes increased from 36.6 percent to 50.4 percent
  • Generating reminders grew from 23.6 percent to 29.3 percent
  • Writing prescriptions increased 11.4 percent to 21.9 percent.

"Despite substantial growth rates across the five clinical activities—between 23 percent and 97 percent—many physicians still lack access to practice-based clinical information technology," said Marie Reed, M.H.S., HSC data manager and study coauthor with HSC Senior Researcher Joy Grossman, Ph.D.

"For example, nearly 80 percent of physicians surveyed couldn’t use IT to write prescriptions, and a third didn’t have IT for the easiest-to-implement activity—accessing guidelines and treatment alternatives," Reed said.

The study also found that physicians were more likely to be in practices that used IT for multiple clinical activities in 2004-05 than four years earlier. The proportion of physicians reporting their practice has IT access for four or all five of the clinical activities nearly doubled over the period, growing from 11.1 percent to 20.9 percent. And significantly fewer physicians reported being in practices with limited clinical IT, with the percentage of physicians in practices with IT for no more than one clinical activity dropping from 50.6 percent to 37 percent.

The study cautioned that the findings be considered an upper bound on the proportion of physicians regularly using clinical IT in their practices because physicians were asked about IT availability in their practice but not whether they actually use the technology or the frequency or intensity of use.

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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 funded principally by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.



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The Center for Studying Health System Change Ceased operation on Dec. 31, 2013.