Electronic Health Records To Cut Costs?

Over the past decade there has been a coordinated effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to increase the use of electronic health records by health care providers across the country.  Health policy experts believe that the use of electronic health records will result in better coordinated care for patients and significant cost savings to the health care system. The generally accepted belief is that electronic health care records will help reduce unnecessary and duplicative tests by giving doctors more comprehensive and up-to-date information when making diagnoses of patients.  However, a study published March 5 in the journal of Health Affairs disputes the notion that electronic health records will cut costs.  In fact, the research finds that doctors who rely on computerized patient records may actually order expensive tests, like X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging, more frequently than physicians who rely on paper records.

The study showed that doctors with computerized access to a patient’s previous image results ordered tests on 18 percent of the visits, while those without the tracking technology ordered tests on 12.9 percent of visits. The research was based on a survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, which collected data from more than 28,000 patient visits to more than 1,100 doctors in 2008.  Proponents of electronic health records criticized the study’s findings noting that the 2008 data predates federal incentive payments for doctors and standards for the “meaningful use” of electronic health records that began in 2011.

-Jaime Venditti, 3/13/12