Small practices driving increase in EHR usage rates

Small practices traditionally have not had access to the vast resources and time management process available to large organizations that make electronic health record system implementation a much smoother process. With deep budgets to pay for EHR software and human resource departments that can dedicate armies of staff to train medical professionals on how best to interact with the new systems, large practices have been responsible for the main thrust for EHR implementation since meaningful use incentives began promoting the technology.

According to a recent report from medical customer database firm SK&A Cegedim, EHR use rates are now leveling off among large health care organizations. Instead, small practices have begun to catch up to their counterparts and are responsible for the most recent growth spike in EHR implementation rates. While these small practices still have ground to make up, the general trend toward a significant majority of EHR implementation across the industry promises good things for the overall EHR market.

Crunching the numbers
SK&A Cegedim collected their data on national EHR usage rates by calling the offices of more than 270,036 medical sites. Its last published report included information from January 2012 to January 2013, and this report covers the next data window up until January 2014. 

Overall, 61 percent of all U.S. medical offices now use EHR systems in their daily workflows. This represents a marked 10.7 percent increase from last year's number of only 50.3 percent. 

Predictably, practices within or associated with large health care organizations remain at the top of the heap when it comes to EHR implementation rates. Medical locations with 11 or more examination rooms boasted a 74.8 percent usage rate, with slowly declining numbers until one-room offices with only 39.7 percent implementation. Additionally, practices that saw on average more than 100 patients a day reported much higher rates – 76.3 percent – than those who saw less than 50 people – 57.5 percent.

"We have seen that the larger the site, the more adoption increases," Jack Schember, senior director of U.S. marketing for SK&A Cegedim told Medical Marketing & Media in a phone interview. "It's pretty simple – more physicians can help finance the purchase of these systems and spread out the costs."

Small practices, big gains
While Schember agrees with the data that points to large health care organizations as the leading users of EHR systems, he also indicated that the usage rate for these conglomerates is hitting a plateau and slowing down. Instead, it is the small practices that were responsible for much of the 10.7 percent annual growth rate since January 2013.

"It's taken [the one- and two-physician offices] time to evaluate the systems and set up the training – essentially it's taken them time to get prepared – but also these low-cost, no-cost systems available on the market are ideal for solo physician offices," Schember told Medical Marketing & Media.

One-physician offices saw an 11.4 percent increase from 42.3 percent in January 2013 to 53.7 percent in January 2014. Two-physician offices grew from 53.3 percent to 64.9 percent – an 11.6 percent surge.

"They are catching up," Schember said. "One- and two-physician offices have [traditionally] been the slowest adopters in EHR usage, and now they're among the fastest."

The uptick over the last year among small practices may be explained by the general trend toward a more valuable EHR market, as reported by Accenture. By 2015, the global EHR market is expected to be worth around $22.3 billion, with a 5.5 percent compound annual growth rate.

Large practices were early adopters on the EHR bandwagon, but now that small practices are catching up, medical professionals can expect an industry-wide acceptance of the beleaguered EHR technology.