Life-saving potential of EHRs already a realization

With all of the hoopla regarding how electronic heath records enable providers to earn incentive payments, it's heartening to read Health Affairs' new study that indicates meeting the computerized physician order entry (CPOE) standards for meaningful use may reduce the number of inpatient deaths due to heart attack or failure.

It's even better, however, to learn about real examples of EHRs improving the quality of care for patients. 

For instance, the Peter Christensen Health Center, a small family practice located on the Lac du Flambeau reservation in Northern Wisconsin, found that implementing an EHR system enabled the clinic to track patient health data and provide more preventive care to its medically underserved community. It also improved patient care to such an extent that the life expectancy of its patients increased overall by 3.5 years, according to Tony Ryzinski, senior vice president of product management and marketing for Sage Healthcare, whose EHR system the clinic uses.

Or take MacArthur OB/GYN, a seven physician specialty practice in Irving, Texas. Dr. Jeffrey Livingston, who joined the practice in 2003, credits the group's adoption of EHRs and application of the Meaningful Use standards with improving its handling of patients who smoked. The practice thought it was asking all of its patients about their use of tobacco products during treatment, but discovered upon implementation of its EHR system that physicians were only capturing 30 to 40 percent of that data. "It forced us to change our forms, so now we're not only capturing all of that data, but also addressing tobacco use [with all of those patients]," he tells FierceEMR.

While better patient care may be one of the biggest arguments in favor of EHR adoption, there are, of course, other real-life benefits. Here are just a few actual examples:

  • Increased revenue: After switching to an EHR system, MacArthur discovered that one of its physicians had been substantially undercoding, which previously had gone unnoticed. The practice also has received is 2011 incentive payment; it is using that increase in revenue to double the size of the practice, Livingston says.
  • Better use of office space: By eliminating paper charts, Ocala Eye, an ophthalmology practice with multiple locations in Florida, was able to avoid leasing more office space, according to Dr. Peter Polack. MacArthur, meanwhile, converted the space it had used for paper charts and added an additional exam room.
  • Reduced staff costs and better utilization: EHR adoption enabled AMS Cardiology, a 17 physician practice in Abington, Pa., to shift five clerical staff members into other jobs within the practice. "We didn't fire anyone, but as time went on we converted them to other positions and didn't need to replace them so we realized additional savings," Dr. Andrew Fireman tells FierceEMR.
  • Lowered office expenses: Transitioning to EHRs saved AMS about $200,000 in transcription and postage costs in the first year alone, offsetting the cost of the investment in the EHR system, Fireman says.

- Marla

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