US healthcare IT executives have named implementing a paperless electronic medical record (EMR) their top priority in the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMMS) leadership poll.

Nearly two-thirds of healthcare IT executives said their organisation planned to implement an EMR in the next two years, according to the 16th annual HIMMS leadership survey.  One in five exeutives reported having an EMR currently, the same figure as in 2004,

"The fact that 80% of organisations plan to have an EMR within two years is encouraging, because it’s key to establishing the ultimate goal – a national electronic health record," said Pamela R. Wirth, chair of the HIMSS board of directors, and vice president of Susquehanna Health System.

The top priority for the use of IT was reducing medical errors, said 53% of respondents.

"For the fourth consecutive year, improving patient safety is ranked among the top priorities for healthcare organisation," said Charles Bracken, senior vice-president of consultancy Superior Consultant Company/ACS Healthcare Solutions. "We recognise this trend as we see our consulting and outsourcing clients increasingly turning to information technology initiatives focused on reducing errors."

Implementing a single sign-on for healthcare IT systems is of equal importance to IT executives, according to the survey. 70% of respondents said they intended to install the system, which increases ease of use for users by giving them only one password and username, and improves security by only allowing them access to approved services. 21% reported that they already used the system.

Security continues to be a main focus, with 56% saying that an internal breach that would compromise security of EMRs was their top concern. 99% of systems use firewalls, and 79% said important data was stored off-site.

With regards to the patient perspective, 83% said that although they didn’t offer online access for patients to their medical records, they planned to do so in the future. 76% said they intended to add patient scheduling capabilities to their websites, 62% health assessment tools and 55% general consumer health information.