Doctors abroad report mixed results for health IT

Researchers surveyed primary care physicians in 10 nations.

Health IT fails to consistently provide primary care physicians with timely information about patients or information on physician performance, a recent survey of doctors in 10 industrialized nations found.

Even so, physicians say they’re seeing more progress in health IT than in some other health care areas, according to the survey, which was published online in the November issue of Health Affairs journal. U.S. doctors in particular said the health care system needs “fundamental change,” with a majority reporting they spend a great deal of time dealing with insurance hassles that force some patients to go without care.

Researchers surveyed primary care physicians in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States earlier this year for the report, which follows a similar survey conducted in 2009.

The survey found near-universal use of electronic medical records in Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the U.K. Two-thirds or more of physicians in the U.S., France and Germany report using electronic records, with significant growth reported in the U.S. and Canada in the last three years.

Basic electronic medical records functionality was common across countries, according to the findings, but decision-support functions were rarer, especially in Germany and Norway. Multifunctional capacity was most prevalent in the U.K., where more than two-thirds of doctors have multifunctional capacity. Only 27 percent of U.S. practices had multifunction capacity.

In addition, electronic information exchange “is not yet the norm in any country,” according to the survey, with adoption rates ranging from 55 percent in New Zealand to 14 percent in Canada. In the United States, larger practices and those in integrated health systems were most likely to have information-exchange capabilities.

Doctors in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany were most likely to have patients contact them via email. Doctors in Norway and the U.K. were most likely to allow patients to request appointments or referrals online through email or Web portals. Dutch, Norwegian, Swiss and U.K. doctors were most likely to offer online prescription refills, according to the findings.

Canada and Australia lagged in offering electronic access to physicians. On that measure, the United States was in the middle of the pack relative to other countries surveyed for the report.