Hospitals with a disproportionate share of low-income patients are less likely than others to have adopted EHRs--largely due to tight budgets, not surprisingly. They also had lower rates of adoption of other safety-related technologies such as clinical decision support, electronic medication lists and computerized discharge summaries. This discrepancy has created a "digital divide" that is resulting in lower standards of care at facilities with many poor patients, a new Health Affairs study concludes.
However, the researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, Massachusetts General Hospital and George Washington University found that differences in quality between the two categories of hospitals "were essentially erased" at disproportionate-share hospitals that did have EHRs. "Although it is tempting to conclude that EHRs helped 'equalize' quality performance between high- and low-DSH hospitals, we cannot be sure," they write.
"We have to find a way to close this digital divide and make sure these hospitals get the capital they need. If we don't, we risk widening gaps in care that will lead to higher costs and more inefficiency," says Dr. John Lumpkin, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Care Group, which provided funding for the study.