Study looks at the financial impact of EHRs

While health IT is often viewed as a key element in the drive to reduce healthcare costs, the fact is it’s been difficult for policymakers and proponents to say just how effective the transition will be.

A new study published in the American Journal of Managed Care aims to rectify that. According to the researchers, the purpose of the study was “to develop a framework that would describe more precisely the specific functionalities enabled by EHRs and HIE that may be expected to mediate any financial effects. We also sought to rank the relative importance of these functionalities for their expected financial effects, with input from national experts.”

The researchers go on to note that such a framework could help policymakers determine effective measures for the next iteration of meaningful use, as well as help providers choose the measures that will work best, clinically and financially, for them.

In the report’s summary, the authors report that they “identified 54 high-scoring functionality-setting combinations, 27 for EHRs and 27 for HIE. Examples of high-scoring functionalities included providing alerts for expensive medications, providing alerts for redundant lab orders, sending and receiving imaging reports, and enabling structured medication reconciliation.”

Interestingly, the researchers made sure to compare their top-scoring functionalities with Stage 1 of meaningful use, and they found that “All of the Stage 1 meaningful use measures reflect functionalities that were scored in our framework. Of the 15 core meaningful use measures, 4 were ranked highly in our framework as having the most potential for driving financial value: use computer provider order entry (CPOE) for medication orders, implement drug-drug interaction checks, implement the capability to electronically exchange key clinical information among providers and patient-authorized entities, and report clinical quality measures to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or the states.”

As they point out, this is only one study, but for our money it should be the first of many. For only by studying the actual impact of EHRs, especially those systems implemented as a result of the HITECH incentives, will we know if we’re getting the results we were promised.

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