EHRs May Slow the Rise of Outpatient Healthcare Costs, Study Says | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

EHRs May Slow the Rise of Outpatient Healthcare Costs, Study Says

July 18, 2013
by Rajiv Leventhal
| Reprints

The use of electronic health records (EHRs) can reduce the costs of outpatient care by roughly three percent, compared to relying on traditional paper records, according to a new study from the University of Michigan that examined more than four years of healthcare cost data in nine communities.

The "outpatient care" category in the study included the costs of doctor's visits as well as services typically ordered during those visits in laboratory, pharmacy and radiology. The study compares the healthcare costs of 179,000 patients in three Massachusetts communities that widely adopted EHRs and six control communities that did not. The findings support the prevailing but sometimes criticized assumption that computerizing medical histories can lead to lower healthcare expenses.

The communities that computerized their records –Brockton, Newburyport and North Adams – did so in approximately the middle of the study period of 2005-2009. All the communities, including the controls, had applied to be part of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative's pilot that gave funding and support for entire cities' worth of doctors' offices to convert their records. To maximize the benefit from computerized records, experts believe it's important that the shift occurs throughout entire communities, rather than piecemeal. This real-world experiment gave the researchers a chance to test that premise.

"To me, this is good news," Julia Adler-Milstein, an assistant professor in the University of Michigan School of Information and School of Public Health who led the study, said in a statement. "We found three percent savings and while that might not sound huge, if it could be sustained or even increased, it would be a substantial amount. That said, when we talk about cost savings, it does not mean that the costs went down, but that the costs did not go up as quickly in the intervention communities. This suggests that adopting electronic records helped slow the rise in healthcare costs."

Adler-Milstein and her colleagues calculated healthcare costs per patient per month, which amounted to 4.8 million data points. They examined not only total cost, but broke the data down by hospital care and outpatient care. They further examined outpatient costs for prescriptions, laboratory and radiology. They didn't find any savings when they looked at measures of total cost or inpatient cost. The savings showed up when they narrowed the scope to outpatient care.

On average, the researchers estimated $5.14 in savings per patient per month in the communities with electronic health records relative to those without the records. Most of the savings were in radiology, and Adler-Milstein says doctors may have ordered fewer imaging studies because they had better access to patients' medical histories.

Get the latest information on Health IT and attend other valuable sessions at this two-day Summit providing healthcare leaders with educational content, insightful debate and dialogue on the future of healthcare and technology.

Learn More

Topics

News

Trump will Nominate Acting VA Secretary Wilkie for Permanent Position

Just a day after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Cerner inked their $10 billion EHR (electronic health record) deal, President Trump said he would be nominating Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie for the permanent position.

ONC Names API Server Showdown Stage 2 Winner

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has named 1UpHealth as the Stage 2 winner of the “Secure API Server Showdown” challenge.

EHNAC Developing Trusted Exchange Accreditation Program

To align with the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement, the Electronic Healthcare Network Accreditation Commission, a nonprofit standards development organization and accrediting body, is working with other organizations to establish a new Trusted Exchange Accreditation Program.

Lawmakers Demand New VA CIO, Citing “Malign Neglect” on EHR Project

A group of Democratic federal lawmakers, five senators and six members of Congress, are calling out the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for what they call “malign neglect” in the agency’s efforts to achieve electronic health record (EHR) modernization.

Medical Record Access Proves Costly for Some Patients, GAO Report Finds

Federal law requires healthcare providers to give patients access to their medical records, but according to a new GAO report, some patients believe they’re being charged too much to access their records.

Parkland’s Innovation Bridge Takes ‘Genius Bar’ Approach to Digital Health Apps

Taking inspiration from the Apple Genius Bar and Ochsner Health System’s O Bar, the Dallas-based Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation in collaboration with Parkland Health & Hospital System has opened an “Innovation Bridge” to assist patients with health-related apps.