Survey: U.S., Older Physicians More Skeptical of HIT

By Jane Anderson

Physicians in eight countries agree that health information technology has the potential to improve clinical data and care coordination while reducing medical errors, according to a new survey. However, physicians in the United States and doctors older than 50 voiced considerably more skepticism than did their younger and international colleagues about the technology’s ability to improve care.

The survey, conducted by global consulting firm Accenture, exposed generational and geographic divides among physicians when it comes to their views on the benefits of health information technology (HIT). Physicians who haven’t used the technology are most skeptical, but once they start to use HIT, they begin to see those benefits, said Frances Dare, a senior executive with Accenture Health.

“The value indicators from those [physicians] who have used the technology are very strong,” meaning they think the technology can improve care and reduce costs, Ms. Dare said in an interview. “It’s not that physicians try it and don’t like it and stop. We really do need to focus on physicians who haven’t used these technologies; it’s really getting across that first adoption hurdle.”

Accenture surveyed 500 doctors per country in Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Spain, and the United States, along with 200 doctors in Singapore, in August and September 2011. The researchers measured physicians’ attitudes toward HIT, including whether they thought it would bring access to better-quality data, improved coordination, reductions in medical errors, and improved diagnostic decisions.

The survey found that nearly 71 percent of physicians in the eight countries surveyed think that HIT will improve data for clinical research, and 69 percent think it will improve coordination of care. About two-thirds think it will lead to a reduction in medical errors, and about 65 percent think it will lead to better health care decisions.

However, fewer than 50 percent of physicians think it will lead to less litigation, and fewer than 50 percent think it will lead to fewer unnecessary procedures or increased speed of access to health services for patients. Because HIT is frequently touted with promises of improved access and better coordination of care, this finding shows that physicians haven’t fully bought into those promises, according to Accenture.

Finally, fewer than 40 percent of physicians in the eight countries are not certain that HIT will lead to improved patient outcomes.

Ms. Dare said that policy makers and companies involved in the HIT field have tended to focus on how the technology can reduce costs and unnecessary care, whereas this survey shows that physicians care more about how HIT can improve access to care and care coordination for patients. However, using HIT to improve care – which physicians want – ultimately will address cost issues as well, she said.

“If we say to physicians, ‘This technology will allow you to better coordinate care’ – if we speak to the benefits physicians care about – then we will get the benefits policy makers and industry care about, which are utilization and cost,” Ms. Dare said.

Physicians who use HIT most frequently have the highest opinions of it, according to the survey.

For example, more than 72 percent of physicians younger than age 50 say that electronic medical records and health information exchanges will improve care coordination, the survey found, whereas 73 percent think those technologies will offer better access to quality data for clinical research. Among older physicians, only 65 percent think research data will improve, and 68 percent think care coordination will improve, according to the survey.

Meanwhile, negative opinions about HIT are most pronounced among physicians in the United States, according to Accenture. Fewer than half of all U.S. physicians surveyed said they believed that HIT would improve health care overall, compared with 59 percent of physicians in all eight countries.

In addition, only 45 percent of U.S. physicians believe that HIT will improve diagnostic decisions, compared with 61 percent of all physicians surveyed, and just 47 percent of U.S. physicians say that technology already has improved the quality of treatment decisions, compared with an average of 61 percent of physicians in all eight countries. Only 45 percent of U.S. physicians believe that HIT leads to improved outcomes, compared with 59 percent of all physicians.

The United States “is behind,” Ms. Dare said. “We’re…a decade late [in having] a national agenda to drive adoption and having a unified approach to drive adoption” of HIT. Still, Ms. Dare said she believes the United States can catch up quickly if more physicians begin to use HIT and see the benefits from it.