Despite Use of Health IT Tools, U.S. Primary Care Physicians Struggle With Care Coordination

A new survey has drawn conclusions that, while infuriating, probably won’t surprise anyone working in the U.S. healthcare system today. The survey, which reached out to primary care physicians around the world, found that despite having powerful health IT tools at the ready, U.S.-based PCPs are still finding it difficult to coordinate care with other care providers and social service agencies.

Researchers conducting the Commonwealth Fund’s International Health Policy Survey reached out to more than 13,000 PCPs in 11 high-income countries, specifically Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

When they analyzed the data, researchers found that U.S.-based primary care physicians were behind the other countries studied when it came to provider-to-provider communications. For example, at least seven in 10 physicians in the other countries receive updates from specialists when there are changes to their patients’ medication or care plans, while just 49% of U.S. respondents do.

Another area in which the U.S. doctors lagged is emergency department data. While more than 80% of PCPs in New Zealand and the Netherlands said they were notified about patients’ ED visits, only about half of U.S. primary care physicians could say the same.

These gaps exist despite the fact that U.S. doctors are more likely to share health IT tools with patients, particularly given the ongoing problems U.S. providers face in fostering health data interoperability, the Commonwealth Fund found.

Overall, U.S. physicians were more likely to report that they offered patients access to portals and other web-based tools, with 77% of respondents allowing their patients the option of reaching out via email or via a secure website. U.S. physicians, along with those based in Sweden, were in the lead when it came to offering appointment scheduling, prescription refills, test results and visit summaries.

In addition, U.S. physicians were among the most likely to provide digital health services such as video consults and remote monitoring.

However, it seems likely that the struggles U.S. providers face in achieving interoperability are holding them back in other ways. For example, while between 72% and 93% of respondents in the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden said they could exchange patient clinical summaries, laboratory and diagnostic test results and patient medication lists with outside doctors, only about half of U.S. physicians were able to do so.

Of course, no one health IT solution is likely to make care coordination dramatically easier for physicians. Given the pace at which the share of elderly patients is increasing, bringing on much greater coordination demands, it’s going to be a struggle for PCPs to even maintain the levels of service they currently offer. Nonetheless, it’s good to take stock of where we stand at present – even though at least in this case, we may not like what we see!

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.