Providing physicians with the price of lab tests via electronic health records can reduce their ordering rates, according to a new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
The researchers, from Massachusetts General Hospital and elsewhere, studied 215 primary care physicians from an alliance of five nonprofit multispecialty medical groups in Massachusetts. Their EHRs displayed in real time for the 153 physicians in the intervention group the average Medicare reimbursement rate for 27 lab tests, including 21 lower cost tests. The researchers said they found a "significant decrease" in the ordering rates for almost one-fifth (19 percent) of the tests, compared to the doctors in the control group.
They also found that the physicians appreciated the information, with a whopping 81 percent reporting that the EHR display improved their knowledge about lab test costs.
"Real-time display of cost information in an electronic health record can lead to a modest reduction in ordering of laboratory tests, and is well received," the researchers said. "Our study demonstrates that electronic health records can serve as a tool to promote cost transparency and reduce laboratory test use."
It has been acknowledged that EHRs have the potential to reduce healthcare costs and unnecessary overtreatment. However, such systems do not do so automatically, according to research published the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; clinicians need to use the tools in the EHRs in order to reap that benefit.