Penguin Problem in EMR Adoption

Vince Kuraitis opened my eyes to a new term called the “Penguin Problem” and applying it to EMR adoption. Here’s the principle:

Economists call it “The Penguin Problem” — No one moves unless everyone moves, so no one moves.

Considering our paltry 15% or so EMR adoption rate, it seems like this is an apt description of EMR adoption as well. It does seem like many doctors are on the sidelines waiting for the first adopters to stick their proverbial heads out of the water and show all the other penguins the fish they’ve gotten.

The problem as I see it was that far too many doctors were coming out of an EMR implementation and showing all the other “penguins” (doctors) that there were few “fish” (money and benefits) to be found. However, about a year ago I was seeing a shift in this perspective. Doctors were starting to see a number of very successful EMR implementation and very happy EMR users. I felt about a year ago that the penguins were ready to move and adopt EMR software.

Then, the EMR stimulus money hit. It was like a big seal just swam in front of the penguins and so many of the doctors decided to just wait a little bit longer before making the jump.

What I don’t understand is why all the doctors were on the verge of implementing an EMR before the HITECH ARRA EMR Stimulus money are now so reticent to make the jump. If the EMR was going to be a benefit to your clinic before the stimulus money it will still be a benefit now. The EMR stimulus money should just be a bonus for you.

No doubt healthcare is currently missing out on the real network benefits that will be found when all the doctors “move” and implement an EMR.

This weekend I talked to a doctor who’s worked his entire career (15 or so years) in an environment with an electronic medical record. He just couldn’t imagine how anyone would practice medicine without the computer and an EMR. The clinics I work with feel the same way about EMR.

In Vince’s article, he takes a bit different angle on the “The Penguin Problem” and EMR adoption so go read hist blog post as well. I’m not quite as optimistic as Vince about the HITECH act’s effect on EMR adoption, but I am very optimistic about EMR adoption in general. Good EMR software is out there and more stories of successful implementations are happening every day.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • Too many bad stories out there.
    Too many bad EMRs
    Small practices can’t afford to do it
    They don’t want to do it
    They are afraid to do it.
    The ROI does not exist.

    There will come a time (not sure when) when enough docs will find and use the good EMRs and the stories will spread and word of mouth endorcement will happen.

    There will be a “tipping point” when all of a sudden everyone adopts EMRs.

    This will only happen when CURRENT USERS endorse the use of EMRs.

  • Good point Jeff. I agree with you. – “There will come a time ( in very near future ) when enough docs will find and use the good EMRs and the stories will spread and word of mouth endorcement will happen. “

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