Study: EHRs plus technical assistance needed to improve quality of care

Small physician groups who want to use their electronic health records to improve patient care will need technical support to meet that goal, according to a new study in Health Affairs.

Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College and the Primary Care Information Project of the New York City Health Department evaluated 3,300 physicians at 600 primary care practices in underserved neighborhoods serving disadvantaged patients. The researchers found that physicians who used EHRs but received little or no technical support saw no quality improvement in patient care. However, those who received at least eight technical assistance visits saw greater quality improvement in areas such as breast cancer screening and retinal exams for diabetes patients.

"EHR implementation alone was not sufficient to improve quality of care. Only those physicians who received high levels of technical assistance concomitant with EHR implementation improved quality. Even relatively long periods of EHR use--up to two years--were not associated with quality improvement for physicians who received no technical assistance or only moderate levels of assistance," the researchers concluded.

The study also found that even the practices that received extensive technical assistance needed almost a year before their EHR use improved the quality of care provided, indicating that there's a learning curve in using the EHR to improve quality.

The study mirrors other research that found EHRs can improve quality outcomes, but not in a vacuum. Adoption alone does not consistently improve the quality of care.

To learn more:
- here's the announcement
- read the study