Researchers sought to find out by surveying a random sample of 1,884 physicians in Massachusetts. They found that the functions available in EHR (electronic health record) systems vary considerably. The majority of respondents said that their systems allowed them to view laboratory test results (84.4%) and document visit notes electronically (84%). Far fewer doctors, however, reported having systems that would allow them to prescribe electronically with electronic transmittal of prescriptions to pharmacies (44.7%) or use laboratory order entry (46.8%). Moreover, more than half of the respondents (53%) reported having an EHR system that provided clinical decision support, such as alerts, warnings, and reminders. But not all of them use it: Less than a third (31.2%) said they used this function most or all of the time.
The researchers concluded in the Archives of Internal Medicine (3/12/2007) that "a considerable fraction of physicians with EHRs do not have the necessary functions available to improve quality and safety in health care and that having functions available does not always translate to regular use of them in day-to-day practice." Their study highlights the need to ensure physicians are getting the support for implementing and using their EHR systems to their fullest potential-a need that the researchers suggest could be filled through efforts by professional organizations, state medical societies, or quality improvement organizations.