Small, Nonteaching, and Rural Hospitals Continue to be Slow in Adopting Electronic Health Record Systems

To achieve the goal of comprehensive health information record keeping and exchange among providers and patients, hospitals must have functioning electronic health record systems that contain patient demographics, care histories, lab results, and more.

Using national survey data on U.S. hospitals from 2011, the year federal incentives for the meaningful use of electronic health records began, these researchers found that the share of hospitals with any electronic health record system increased from 15.1 percent in 2010 to 26.6 percent in 2011, and the share with a comprehensive system rose from 3.6 percent to 8.7 percent. The proportion able to meet the proxy criteria for meaningful use also rose; in 2011, 18.4 percent of hospitals had these functions in place in at least one unit and 11.2 percent had them across all clinical units. However, gaps in rates of adoption of at least a basic record system have increased substantially over the past four years based on hospital size, teaching status, and location. Small, nonteaching, and rural hospitals continue to adopt electronic health record systems more slowly than other types of hospitals.

In sum, this is mixed news for policy-makers, who should redouble their efforts among hospitals that appear to be moving slowly and ensure that policies do not further widen gaps in adoption. The researchers suggest that a more robust infrastructure for information exchange needs to be developed, and possibly a special program for the sizable minority of hospitals that have almost no health information technology at all.