EHR costs outweigh benefits, analysis finds

Electronic health records have potential, but their benefits won't be achieved without significant upfront costs by providers, patients and the federal government, according to a new analysis from the American Action Forum, a nonprofit think tank.

The analysis finds that the hardware, software and labor costs for a solo practitioner to transition to an EHR are about $163,765, and $233,298 for a five-person physician practice. However, physicians were not yet seeing a payoff, with increased costs at least for the first three years after adoption.

Productivity declined an average of 15 patients per doctor per quarter. However, reimbursement increased, not because of upcoding but because of the increase in billing for ancillary procedures; physicians were receiving more money for treating fewer patients, which was "not the intended result" of EHRs.

Other roadblocks negatively impact the value of EHRs, as well. The high number of physicians (60 percent) planning on replacing their systems in 2015 will delay interoperability. Information blocking also remains a problem, which will require a "complicated policy solution" to bring the players together to benefit "society as a whole." 

In addition, the costs of information security are high, estimated at $50.6 billion in less than six years. And the dramatic increase in the average number of records compromised in a single security breach is "alarming" and may be a consequence of the more connected healthcare system being strived for.

"Widespread use of electronic medical records could bring beneficial change to the healthcare system in a variety of ways, largely because they are the foundational piece to many technologies and analyses that could change healthcare delivery," the authors say. "All of these potential advances could greatly improve health outcomes and help bend the healthcare cost curve. Unfortunately, these advances come with significant costs, both financially and in terms of personal privacy."

The analysis corroborates other studies that indicate EHRs have made strides but are not yet delivering as promised.

To learn more:
- read the analysis