Health IT improves hospital quality, research finds

Health IT appears to help hospitals focus on quality improvement, reduce mortality rates and improve patient satisfaction, new provisional research published this week by BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making finds, but hospital quality managers were more likely to see improvement than doctors and nurses.

Previous studies have shown little health IT impact on quality, the researchers at Boston University said, but often evaluated a single technology. The Boston University study considered the combined impact of electronic health records, computerized provider order entry systems, medication management systems, picture archival and communication systems, bar coding and radio frequency identification technology.

"It is likely that [health information technologies] are enablers of quality practices and clinical [quality improvement] strategies through enhanced communication, documentation, information transfer, performance monitoring, and error prevention, thus, leading to improved quality performance," the researchers concluded. Improvement was found in four of six areas measured.

Although the improvements in mortality rates and patient satisfaction are indisputable, it's possible that quality managers at the 401 U.S. hospitals surveyed "believed that patient care quality was better in their hospitals simply because their hospitals had implemented quality-enhancing HITs," the researchers cautioned. Doctors and nurses were less certain health IT had improved patient care.

Still, the researchers concluded their study is proof that implementing health IT is worth the challenges and expense.

Clinicians in some hospitals seem to disagree. Doctors from California's Contra Costa Health Services met with county officials last week to complain about the system's new electronic health record system. They said the "clunky" EHR caused such long delays that one out of every 10 emergency room patients at county hospitals left without being seen or treated, and that some physicians were so frustrated they quit.

To learn more:
- read the study

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