Electronic Health Records Not Yet Making Impact, Patients Turn To Web For Advice

As the United States launches "an ambitious program, backed by $19 billion in government incentives, to accelerate the adoption of computerized patient records in doctors' offices and hospitals," a new study of 3,000 hospitals "has found little difference in the cost and quality of care," The New York Times reports. "Dr. Karen Bell, a former senior official in the Department of Health and Human Services and an expert in health technology, said she was not surprised by the research. 'Very few hospitals today are effectively using the capabilities of electronic health records,' she observed."

Dr. Ashish K. Jha, "an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public health, who led the research project," notes that most of the gains found from the technology "has come from looking at an elite group of large, high-performing health providers that have spent years adapting their practices to the technology. The group usually includes Kaiser Permanente, the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and Intermountain Healthcare, among others. But the new study… suggests that these exceptions mostly point to the long-term potential of electronic health records, properly used" (Lohr, 11/15).

In other medical technology news, 61 percent of adults say they seek health information online, according to a recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, NPR reports. About 20 percent of these so-called "e-patients" visit "Internet and social-networking sites where they can talk to medical experts and other patients, says Susannah Fox, with the Pew Internet and American Life Project. 'They are posting their first-person accounts of treatments and side effects from medications,' says Fox. 'They are recording and posting those podcasts. They're tagging content. They are part of the conversation. And that, I think, is an indicator of where we could be going in terms of the future of participatory medicine.'" Fox "says patients are far ahead of doctors and hospitals when it comes to using the Internet" (Shapiro, 11/16).

Pittsburgh Tribune Review: The Pew researchers report that "[t]he Internet ranks third behind health professionals and family members as a source for medical advice." But there is a generational divide. "Younger patients are more likely to research health issues online and follow up with their doctors. Internet users ages 18 to 29 make up the largest group of people seeking health information, the Pew study found. Those ages 30 to 49 were second" (Smith, 11/16).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.