(By Anthony Miller) Here’s the headline statistic. 80% of US physicians do not have EHR (electronic health records) – a ~$5bn opportunity. Actually, for small physician practices it’s more like 90%. QED, the recently completed merger of Misys’ healthcare business with US-listed software player Allscripts is now poised to deliver huge rewards. Easy-peasy.
But hang on a minute. There must be a reason why over 90% of small practices are still knee-deep in paper medical records. It’s certainly not because EHR products haven’t been available before. In fact, according to Allscripts, EHR systems have been around for twenty years and there are now some 350 vendors in the US alone. Here’s my theory. The reason why EHR penetration is so low in small practices is because, for the vast majority, the sheer time, effort and cost of converting paper-based medical records of probably thousands of patients going back years if not decades is simply not a practical or economic proposition.
I put this very point to Allscripts CEO Glen Tullman at this morning’s briefing. He noted that the US government provides financial assistance to physician practices to help make the transition. He mentioned grants of $3-5,000, which I have to say sounds like a drop in the ocean compared to the size of the task. Tullman also noted that hospitals in the US are now allowed to fund physicians too. But I just don’t see direct cost as the big issue. Any of us who have lived through the ‘computerisation’ of a manual system in a large corporation will know the pain involved in gathering the paper records, sorting them, transcribing them, correcting errors, resolving duplicates, and so on. Now imagine you are a 3-person medical practice with no IT department.