According to a recent study, appearing in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) journal, Medicare & Medicaid Research Review, the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) does not necessarily impact healthcare costs in the short run.
The researchers of the study, led by Julia Adler-Milstein, an assistant professor of information at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, looked at a Massachusetts run EHR pilot to see if the implementation of the system would reduce short-run healthcare costs in the Medicaid population. What the researchers found was consistent inconsistency, except for the fact that in all three communities, the ambulatory medical costs increased more slowly in the post period compared to the pre period.
The researchers calculated the monthly ambulatory cost and visit measures from Medicaid claims data for beneficiaries receiving the majority of their care in the three Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative (MAeHC) pilot communities or in six matched control communities. They then looked at whether there was a cost difference before and after the implementation period for two specific components of ambulatory medical care, laboratory and radiology costs, looking at intervention and control community members.
In two out of the three communities, the EHR impacted ambulatory medical costs, but in opposite directions. In one community, costs increased more slowly in one intervention compared to its control communities in the pre-to-post period. In another, costs increased more slowly in the control communities.
To the authors of the study, these results suggest that EHRs can either decrease or increase the cost of care, depending on the context in which they are used. They note that their findings “mirror the conflicting evidence about the impact of EHRs on healthcare utilization and associated costs.” They add that much of the cost savings from EHRs comes from health information exchange (HIE), and systems connected to a robust HIE may realize greater cost savings.