Why Physicians are Slow to Take the Digital Leap of Faith

Candice Claassen

Candice Claassen

Posted on December 04, 2014

Physicians overwhelmed by digital transition2015 is fast approaching and bringing with it new federal regulations that will force many healthcare practices to go digital. Some providers are struggling to find their footing before stepping into the digital arena, where they will face high upfront costs and the risk of penalties, often compounded by personal fears about what the digital transition may hold in store for the future.

Upfront Costs

Many providers’ most pressing concern is the cost of implementing new systems. Starting in 2015 Medicare will withhold 1% of payments from providers who don’t use electronic health records. Those who fail to enroll in a federal program that requires digital documentation of patient improvement will lose another 1.5%. Next fall providers will also be expected to adopt the new ICD-10 coding system, which the American Medical Association estimates will cost a small practice between $56,639 and $226,105 to implement.

The Risk Factor

Physicians are overwhelmed by more than impending payments. Many fear the risk of medical errors and initial decrease in staff productivity caused by the use of complicated technology, especially in small-scale practices. Others wonder if their staff and computer systems will be ready in time to adapt to the collective sum of activities, or if the wave of regulations will run them out of business.

In larger institutions, some doctors who have been trained to think procedurally have little confidence in their ability to extract relevant insight from reams of data, which may require more flexible thinking than they’re used to. Earlier this year, SAP and Oxford Economics conducted a global study of 5,400 executives and employees and found that many medical workers are concerned that the implementation of new technology will cause their position to change or make them “obsolete.”

Listening to the Needs of Patients and Providers

Physicians know that on the other side of the conversation are patients who undeniably need a modernized health care system to navigate the analog medical world. A recent Pew study found that most Americans with chronic illness track health data related to their disease. Of these patients,  43 percent currently track metrics “in their head” and 41% use a pen and paper. Despite medical professionals’ common concerns, most executives recognize the need for the digital transition and believe it will ultimately improve the accuracy of claims, quality of care and patient safety.

Large medical groups like the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and Kaiser Permanente have used digital records effectively for years. Now smaller organizations are seeking more case studies that prove the business-related benefits of electronic health tools and more practical and personal advice about how to implement them successfully. So far, most of the work leading up to this transition has been more focused on solving technical problems related to data, devices and software than assisting providers as they struggle to adapt to digital health.


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