Electronic Records, Apps and Devices Poised to Decrease in Person Encounters between Doctors and Patients

The number of patient visits to physicians’ offices could decrease significantly as use of electronic health records and consumer e-health “apps” increase, according to a new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The authors reviewed health informatics and health services research literature through June 2013 using MEDLINE, the Cochrane Database and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s database on health IT.

“The results of our study are important because they provide a forward looking snapshot of how health IT will profoundly impact the American health care workforce over the next decade or two,” said the study’s lead author Jonathan Weiner, DrPH, a professor of Health Policy at Johns Hopkins and director of the school’s Center for Population Health Information Technology.

According to the study, ten years ago only ten percent of office-based doctors were using electronic health records. Currently, however, 70 percent of office-based physicians are making use of them, and consumers are increasingly using the Internet and mobile phones to manage their health, which is making patients more comfortable engaging with their doctors by using electronic tools and devices. The researchers estimate that forms of Health-IT, such as telemedicine and secure patient/doctor digital communication, could help address regional doctor shortages by enabling 12 percent of care to be delivered remotely by doctors living in other locations. The forecasts could be much higher, according to the researchers, if doctors and patients adopted comprehensive e-health and IT even more widely.

“It is essential that workforce planning analyses provide policymakers and stakeholders with evidence and ideas that support rational decision making and preparation for a future that is likely to be dramatically different from the past,” said Dr. David Blumenthal MD, MPP, a co-author of the study and president of The Commonwealth Fund and the former National Coordinator for Health IT for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The study was published in Heath Affairs.

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