Huge Growth in Doctors Use of Information Technology: Physician Survey

digital medicineMore Canadian physicians than ever are embracing information technology. New data from the 2014 National Physician Survey (NPS) shows significant increases in the use of information technology since previous surveys in 2007 and 2010.
Seventy-five per cent of physicians report using electronic records to enter or retrieve clinical patient notes on a laptop or desktop. The number has tripled from 26% in 2007.
“A huge growth in the use of information technology is taking place across Canada,” said Dr. Cecil Rorabeck, President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. “Doctors are not only using information technology more, but finding it enhances their ability to provide high-quality patient care.”

Sixty-five percent of physicians reported seeing better or much better quality of care since the implementation of electronic records, a rise of nine percentage points from last year. Physicians in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario were most likely to report using electronic records at close to 81% in each according to the NPS findings. Cancer specialists had very high usage with radiation oncologists 96%, of medical oncologists 97% and for family physicians 77%.

“It’s great to see more family physicians moving to electronic record systems and electronic tools,” says Dr. Garey Mazowita, College of Family Physicians of Canada President. “The benefits include faster access to test results and reviews of medication lists and interactions, and that means more timely health care for our patients. Going forward it will be important to enhance issues related to technical support, system compatibility and privacy requirements to ensure maximum efficiency of the technology.”

Most frequent benefits that were quoted include identifying lab results, ability to access a patient’s chart remotely, being alerted to critical test results or to potential medication warnings.

Electronic tools used by physicians other than EMRs are also on the rise. The most frequent use of electronic tools is the access to lab/diagnostic test results — 80 per cent compared to 38% in 2010. Fifty-eight per cent of physicians use electronic tools to review what medications are being taken by a patient and 45%to provide warnings for drug interactions as well as for referrals to other physicians.

Physicians reported several challenges in accessing information: 52% reported technical glitches, 46% with compatibility issues with other systems and 26% complaining about firewall or security issues.

“Adoption of information technology among physicians has reached a tipping point, and we’re starting to see significant improvement on quality and efficiency of care as a result,” said Dr. Cindy Forbes, President-elect of the Canadian Medical Association. “However, governments still need to keep their ‘pedal to the metal’ and continue to financially support physician efforts to implement EMRs so that we may fully unlock the promise of digital health system-wide.”

The 2014 NPS website (nationalphysiciansurvey.ca) includes results by province, specialty and certain demographic characteristics of the responders.

Highlights in numbers

• An increasing number of physicians can access their electronic records at their office, clinic or community health centre (64%) and from a hospital (62%).
• Exclusive use of electronic systems was most prevalent in Alberta (40%), followed by Saskatchewan, British Columbiaand Ontario at 35% each.
• The use of electronic records as a tool to manage a patient’s chronic condition is also increasingly common– 82% of family physicians and 68% of other specialists who treat chronic conditions use electronic record to help them do so.
• 25% of Canadian physicians report using telehealth/telemedicine technologies in their practice, up from 13 per cent for similar services 10 years ago. Newfoundland and Labrador leads the country in usage of telemedicine for consulting with other providers at 56 per cent.
• Twenty-nine percent of physicians report using electronic records exclusively over paper. At 42%, family physicians were more likely to have gone completely electronic as well as other specialities such as anatomical pathologists (45%) and diagnostic radiologists (51%).