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Do Electronic Health Records Really Improve Patient Care?

by Edward J. Kroger, MD, JD on January 26th, 2011

In a country beset by concerns about the cost and quality of medical services, Electronic Health Records (EHRs) hold out the promise of both improving the quality of care and reducing its cost through a more  accurate and efficient use of medical data.  Every health care institution in the United States is considering or is implementing EHR systems and is being encouraged to do so by the federal government’s offer of incentives worth $19 billion.

A 3-year study by Stanford University researchers just published now casts doubt on the assumption that EHRs significantly improve the quality of outpatient care.  In “Electronic Health Records and Clinical Decision Support Systems: Impact on National Ambulatory Care Quality”, senior Author Dr. Randall Stafford analyzed a quarter of a million patient visits between 2005 and 2007 to determine if computerized clinical decision support (CDS) tools in EHR systems improved patient care.  They determined that there was “no consistent association between EHRs and CDS and better quality” in 19 of 20 measures of quality with the single exception of a slight improvement in dietary counseling.

The authors and commentators have pointed out that unfamiliarity with the new technology may have interfered with obtaining the clinical improvement benefit that EHR proponents have advanced.

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From → Health Law