AHRQ: Health IT can improve patient outcomes

Health IT systems such as clinical decision support, clinical workflow support and care coordination can improve healthcare outcomes, a new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality concludes.

That is the consensus from the results of 24 research projects it funded in 2007 under the Improving Quality Through Clinician Use of Health IT (IQHIT) initiative. It focused on using health IT to support physicians in evidence-based care decisions and care coordination.

Merely using technology such as EHR systems or e-prescribing in itself does not necessarily improve outcomes, the report states.

However, health IT can enhance physicians' ability to deliver appropriate evidence-based preventive and chronic care, including managing medications; as well as improving documentation and communication among clinicians and between clinicians and patients, the report says.

One study found that a CDS system that combined point-of-care reminders about needed services with documentation tools, order sets, and retrospective feedback led to improvements in 14 of 16 process metrics related to chronic disease management in the year after implementation. In the year before implementation, only 8 of the 16 measures showed improvement.

Another found that the alerts increased documentation of family planning services when a woman was prescribed a drug with potential to harm a fetus, but not when such a drug was not prescribed. That study found, however, that women were not consistently counseled about drugs' potential dangers.

Similarly, a majority of providers using CDS tools said they had a moderate to significant impact on clinical outcomes, according to a recent survey by research firm KLAS. Only five percent said the tools had no effect on outcomes.

CDS systems have been credited with improvements on a number of fronts, including unnecessary use of antibiotics, strep tests and heart imaging.

To learn more:
- read the report