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EHR systems can cut health care costs, GAO reports

In a new report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) took a look at electronic health records (EHRs) as they relate to improving health care and cutting costs. It examines the stories of 15 health care providers that have formed integrated delivery systems (IDSs).

These particular IDSs were of interest to the GAO because their patient rolls include what the government defines as “underserved populations,” that is, people facing economic, geographic, cultural or linguistic barriers to care, including Medicaid enrollees and rural populations. The government provides a safety net for many such patients — and legislators have to find room in the budget to fund it.

The GAO isn’t the New England Journal of Medicine, a major association or a medical society, but pols in D.C. tend to use its reports to frame debates in Congress. Download the full report to get the deep dive. Want the Cliffs Notes? Here are your money quotes:

  • “Using EHRs supports…strategies to improve the quality of patient care by increasing the availability of clinical information and patient population data and by improving communication.” 
  • “Using EHRs facilitates care coordination because EHRs make patient clinical information more readily available to providers and improve communication among providers, staff and patients.”
  • “Using EHRs facilitates disease management by making patient-level and population-level data available to providers, which allows providers and IDSs to adjust approaches to treatment based on individual patient and population-wide progress.”
  • “Because the EHR provides real-time clinical information, providers are able to see test results immediately upon completion, which might not be possible without an EHR. Having real-time information allows providers to initiate appropriate treatment or follow-up.”

To health care providers who are advanced EHR users, the contents of the report might sound like a long-winded, taxpayer-funded waste of stating the obvious. Legislators, however, rely on GAO findings to help guide them in their craft. With a divided Congress convening, it’s nice that health IT leaders will have a positive report from a source they know speak legislators’ language. It could come in handy for future reference when the hyperbole ratchets up in Capitol Hill debates.

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[...] in government-paid and insurance company-paid services, the uptake of EHRs can be accelerated and health care costs reduced.  Rand estimated $80 billion in yearly EHR cost savings, but recent studies say that some doctors [...]