• family medicine;
  • health services research;
  • policy;
  • rural;
  • technology


Context: Health information technology (HIT) is a national policy priority. Knowledge about the special needs, if any, of rural health care providers should be taken into account as policy is put into action. Little is known, however, about rural-urban differences in HIT adoption at the national level.

Purpose: To conduct the first national assessment of HIT in rural primary care offices, with particular attention to electronic medical record (EMR) adoption, range of capabilities in use, and plans for adoption.

Methods: A national mail survey of 5,200 primary care offices, stratified by rurality using Rural-Urban Commuting Area categories, was conducted in 2007-2008. Regression analyses were used to assess the relationship between office characteristics and EMR adoption, capabilities used, and future adoption plans.

Results: A commercial EMR system was present in 31% of offices, with no significant differences by rurality. Of offices with EMRs, 12% reported using a full range of EMR capabilities, with 51% using a basic range and 37% using less than the basic range. Large Rural (adjusted OR = 3.71, P= .022) and Small Rural (aOR = 3.75, P= .049) offices were more likely than Urban offices to use a broader range of EMR capabilities. Among offices without EMRs, those in Isolated areas were less likely to have more immediate plans to adopt (aOR = 0.19, P= .02).

Conclusions: HIT adoption and use in rural primary care offices does not appear to be lower than in urban offices. The situation, however, is dynamic and warrants further monitoring.