Cost biggest barrier to health IT adoption

Hospitals continue to accelerate their use of health information technology, with 68% reporting that electronic health records had been fully or partially implemented as of fall 2006, according to the American Hospital Association's second annual survey of hospital health IT use.

About one-half of hospitals shared electronic patient data with others in both 2005 (53%) and 2006 (49%). Their most common partners included private-practice physician offices, laboratories, payers, and other hospitals.

Cost is the biggest barrier to greater adoption of health IT, with urban hospitals, teaching hospitals, and larger hospitals more likely to afford the investment, the survey found.

Forty-six percent of community hospitals reported moderate or high use of health IT, compared to 37% in 2005. Health IT use was determined by the number of clinical IT functions — such as medication order-entry, test results review, or clinical alerts — a hospital had implemented.

The AHA points out that while recent Department of Health and Human Services rules have lessened obstacles posed by the physician self-referral and anti-kickback laws, hospitals have been concerned that, under Internal Revenue Services rules, helping physicians access and use health IT could impact hospitals' tax-exempt status.

The latest indication from the IRS, according to the AHA, is that the new HHS rules would not jeopardize hospitals' tax-exempt status.