Study: EMRs may increase nurse staffing, raise costs

If there was ever any question about whether EMRs would improve outcomes and save money, well, those questions persist.

The latest evidence that EMRs may not be all they're cracked up to be comes from the journal Health Services Research, where a team of Arizona State University business professors report mixed results. The researchers studied the experiences of 326 hospitals in California over a 10-year period and found that even "advanced" EMRs can raise costs, necessitate higher nurse staffing levels and even increase complications, though they did find lower mortality rates for some conditions. "Contrary to expectation, we found no support for the proposition that EMR reduced length of stay or decreased the demand for nurses," the study concludes.

"Everyone has been saying that health IT will save money, but our study and others cast doubt on some of the savings," Michael Furukawa, one of the study's authors, says in an ASU press release. "The bottom line is that electronic medical records do appear to help lower mortality rates at hospitals, but they don't necessarily help reduce the number of patient medical complications or reduce costs, especially in the area of nursing."

It should be noted, however, that the researchers mostly studied hospitals at Stage 2 or Stage 3 of the HIMSS Analytics EMR Adoption Model, a scale that goes all the way to Stage 7. Fewer than 1 percent of U.S. hospitals had even achieved Stage 6 during the time frame of the data examined, 1998 to 2007. The researchers say that results improved as implementations progressed and technologies became more advanced, so there is hope for better results as hospitals build out their systems.

To learn more:
- peruse this Health Services Research study abstract
- take a look at this story from the Arizona Republic
- read the ASU press release