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More Research Travails for EHRs

By August 17, 2015Commentary

Electronic medical or health records have been pushed for over a decade now as a big part of the cure for our health system and Congress created incentives and penalties to encourage providers to use them.  Research on their use, however, suggests that the benefits may not be nearly what was promoted.  First up, the AMA and American EHR did a survey of 940 physicians and found that 54% said their EHR increased total operating costs; 43% said they had overcome productivity challenges caused by their EHR; 72% said it didn’t decrease their workload and 42% said it didn’t improve efficiency.  (AMA Survey)  Next up, the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association published research finding that the HiTECH act incentives to adopt EHRs may at most have increased adoption by 7%, a pretty weak result in light of the $30 billion dollars the federal government has spent so far in EHR payments to clinicians.  (JAMIA Study)

Finally, the American Action Forum did a survey and study to see if the use of EHRs ultimately saved physicians money.  The study notes that EMR’s should have significant benefits, but they are costly, with the average single physician implementation cost estimated at $164,000, and while there are economies for larger groups, the cost per physician is still high.  The authors further note that some research finds that use of the systems actually increased hospital and practice costs, at least for the three-year study period following implementation, although savings were reported for some sophisticated hospitals.  Also noted were an average 15% decline in productivity and a simultaneous increase in revenues, caused by more effective capture of all the procedures done during a patient visit.  This increase in practice revenues means that payers were spending more due to EHR use, not less.  Finally, the authors note that the expansion in use of these systems has led to frequent and large data breaches, including of financial information, costing consumers and providers significant time and expense.

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