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Electronic medical records (EMR) are great for both doctors and their patients. It’s convenient to have important patient information only a mouse click away. And patients no longer have to fill out forms or answer a seemingly endless litany of questions every time they go to see their primary care physicians. But as a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, on behalf of the Optum Institute, revealed, CIOs have some concerns regarding costs and meaningful use among other things.

Of the 301 hospital CIOs who were surveyed from Dec. 29, 2011 to Jan. 16, 2012, 87% said that their hospitals used electronic medical records. The use of EMRs is gaining traction, but at what cost? New capabilities, the CIOs said, have raised hospital costs rather than lowered them. Any costs incurred by hospitals have the potential to be transferred to patients in the form of higher co-pays or other charges.

Enabling vendor support (31%), purchasing upgrades (24%) and buying entirely new systems (8%) were mentioned as EMR-related expenditures that have contributed to increased hospital costs. Interestingly, cost was listed as a barrier to meeting meaningful use stage 1 requirements by 57% of those CIOs whose hospitals have EMR systems in place.

According to meaningful use refers to the “rules and regulations that hospitals and physicians must meet to qualify for federal incentive funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).” Despite the costs involved, 70% of  respondents said their hospitals are meaningful use stage 1 compliant, and 76% said that they expect their hospitals to meet meaningful use stage 2 requirements by 2014.

Unlike EMR adoption, moving hospital data to the cloud is gaining traction slowly. Only 11% of respondents said that they plan to invest in cloud-based open systems for EMRs; 12% plan to invest in them for health information exchange; and 36% plan to invest in them for both EMRs and HIEs; whereas 41% have no plans to invest in them at all. Of those who do plan to invest in cloud-based open systems, 57% listed access to additional applications as their reason for doing so, and 56% said they would invest in cloud-based open systems for additional functionality.

One concern voiced by 66% of the CIOs surveyed was accuracy and/or completeness of data. Electronic medical records have to be updated and maintained by human hands, so human error will always be a concern. The quality of treatment that a patient receives is dependent upon the accuracy and completeness of his medical records. So, if a patient was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2007, but the person who recorded the information typed in 1997 as the year of diagnosis, it could make a difference. Employee training is a must for those hospitals that want to ensure their EMRs are accurate and complete.

The idea of using electronic medical records is quickly gaining traction among hospital CIOs. But as the Harris Interactive survey revealed, they also have a lot of concerns about them.

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