Just under 40 percent of U.S. doctors use electronic medical records and many say the system they use is only minimally functional, according to federal survey results released on Thursday.
Only 4 percent of the 2,000 doctors surveyed by the National Center for Health Statistics said their systems were fully functional -- a clear indication of just how many U.S. physicians rely on outdated paper records.
President-elect Barack Obama has said he would make electronic medical records a central part of his healthcare reform plan and promised to spend $50 billion doing so over five years.
But Obama, who named former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle to be his healthcare reform czar and Health and Human Services secretary on Thursday, also said he is not sure how to fund his initiatives given the recession, growing unemployment and other aspects of the economic crisis.
The NCHS, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sent a mail survey to 2,000 office-based doctors between April and August 2008.
"In the 2008 mail survey, 38.4 percent of the physicians reported using full or partial electronic medical record systems, not including billing records, in their office-based practices," the NCHS said in a statement.
"About 20.4 percent reported using a system described as minimally functional and including the following features: orders for prescriptions, orders for tests, viewing laboratory or imaging results, and clinical notes."
Many experts agree that having electronic medical records would improve healthcare, prevent errors and save costs.
The nonprofit Commonwealth Fund found in a report issued in July that 98 percent of doctors in the Netherlands and 89 percent in Britain use electronic medical records, compared to 28 percent in the United States.
Obstacles include creating a system that would work for various doctors' offices and insurers, and that would also protect patient privacy.