Electronic health records lag in obesity-related functions

September 24, 2015

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied the use of obesity-related electronic health record (EHR) functions and the characteristics of health care providers and practices who reported using EHRs with weight management functions. The study, “Electronic health records to support obesity-related patient-care: Results from a survey of United States physicians,” was published recently in Preventive Medicine.

The number of people in the United States with obesity remains high. Annual screening for obesity is recommended as the standard of care for adults and children aged 2 years and older. The use of an EHR with obesity-related features can help providers screen for and diagnose obesity by automatically calculating the patient’s body mass index (BMI), flagging patients as overweight or obese, and cuing providers to give patients with obesity the necessary counseling and treatment services.

In brief, this study found:

  • Of the 88 percent of providers with an EHR, systems fell short of performing even basic functions: 83 percent of these EHRs calculated BMI, 52 percent calculated pediatric BMI percentile, and 32 percent flagged patients with abnormal BMI values.
  • More advanced functions were reported by even fewer doctors; only 36 percent provided obesity-related decision support, and just 17 percent gave additional resources for obesity-related care.
  • Those providers who used a more sophisticated EHR were more likely to be aged 45 years or younger, a pediatrician or a family physician, and practicing in a larger, outpatient setting.

Researchers concluded that more work can be done with health care providers to develop, implement, and promote the use of obesity-related EHR functions to aid in prevention and management efforts. The low rates of use of sophisticated EHR functions currently in practice highlight areas to improve the clinical health information technology in primary care settings that can support primary care practice delivery and patients care.

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