Last week we reported on the high cost of long-term electronic health record (EHR) implementation. Experts said that while EHRs add a major cost to hospitals’ budgets for years to come (a cost that the meaningful use incentives do not come close to covering), improvements in care quality and efficiency could offset the extra expense. If that’s true, EHR quality improvements are a necessary component in accomplishing that.
Of course, this is a pretty big “if.” Hospitals must decide to implement technology that will cost millions of dollars over the next few years, and the justification for this amounts to little more than a hope that quality and efficiency improvements will materialize. But evidence increasingly suggests that these benefits may be more than just a dream.
A recent study published in the journal Health Services Research showed that hospitals that implemented EHRs in accordance with the government’s meaningful use regulations tended to see improvements in care quality. In particular, measures of heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical infection care improved among hospitals that attested to meaningful use. Hospitals that were categorized as low-performing before implementing the technology saw the most substantial gains in quality.
The findings suggest that hospitals may stand a decent chance of realizing the quality and efficiency payoff that underpins the push toward EHRs. These improvements could go a long way toward making technology initiatives financially sustainable over the long run.
A single study cannot conclusively prove that EHRs lead to quality improvements. To be sure, other investigations and anecdotal evidence suggest the opposite. But the findings do add to the growing body of evidence and continue to make the case for EHR quality improvements. Since the questions of quality and cost are closely intertwined, the answer to one could have implications for the other.