A Progress Report on Electronic Health Records in U.S. Hospitals

Promoting the adoption and use of health information technology (HIT) is a major priority for U.S. policy-makers as a means of managing health care costs and improving quality. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) authorized incentive payments through Medicare and Medicaid to providers that implement certified electronic health records and demonstrate their "meaningful use." The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently finalized the meaningful-use criteria for the first two years—2011 and 2012—of the three-stage incentive program. These criteria are intended to ensure that doctors and hospitals will use health IT to improve the quality, efficiency, safety, and other aspects of care.

Given the substantial federal financial incentives soon to be available to providers who make "meaningful use" of electronic health records, tracking the progress of this health care technology conversion is a policy priority. Using a recent survey of U.S. hospitals, this study found that the share of hospitals that had adopted either basic or comprehensive electronic records has risen modestly, from 8.7 percent in 2008 to 11.9 percent in 2009.

Key Findings:

  • Small, public and rural hospitals were less likely to embrace electronic records than their larger, private and urban counterparts.
  • Only 2 percent of U.S. hospitals reported having electronic health records that would allow them to meet the federal government’s "meaningful use" criteria.

These findings underscore the fact that the transition to a digital health care system is likely to be a long one.