EHR effectiveness for hospital care unclear

EHR may be top-of-mind for hospital CIOs these days, but experts are contradicting each other as to whether electronic records are actually worth it. While a study from the RAND Corporation recently published in the American Journal of Managed Care questions whether electronic medical records actually improve patient outcomes, statements by CDC officials point to major value in EHR development. 

The RAND group studied data from 2,000-plus hospitals across 17 quality measure for heart failure, heart attack and pneumonia patients. The group reported back some surprising findings, including: 

  • Basic EHRs had best effect on outcomes: Hospitals with a basic system saw improvements in heart failure outcomes, although not more than hospitals without an EHR. 
  • More advanced systems don't equal more quality improvement: The study showed that hospitals that introduced a more sophisticated system actually saw outcomes fall for the cardiac diagnoses. Researchers weren't clear on whether it was the distraction of implementing a new system, or whether the more complex system actually interfered with the clinical process. 
  • New quality measures are needed: At the end of the day, researchers acknowledge that the problem may lie with the available measurement tools. Standard hospital quality measures simply aren't sophisticated enough to track the effects of technology on complex patient care issues, they indicate. 

CDC director Thomas Frieden, however, insists that electronic records are key not only for improving patient care, but also for solving much larger public health problems, including infection control, HIV, tobacco control and more. During a webinar last month sponsored by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, Frieden explained that EHR advances like instant messaging and email alerts can allow patients and doctors to communicate about the kind of care that's needed on a micro-level, to improve testing and monitoring of chronic disease, reports Cardiovascular Business.

And on the public health front, better technological links between health care providers and government health agencies can improve public awareness about preventable illness or health crises like hypertension and cardiac disease. 

To learn more:
- read this MedHealthWorld piece
- here's the study, published in the American Journal of Managed Care
- read the CardiovascularBusiness article

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