Although many providers anticipate that the deployment of electronic health record systems will curb costs and eliminate unnecessary tests, a study by Health Affairs says otherwise when it comes to office-based caregivers.
In 2008, 1,187 doctors took surveys after 28,741 patient visits. The surveys showed that providers who had electronic access to CT scans and MRIs ordered more — not fewer — tests when it came to image diagnostics.
EHR systems are designed, in part, to help organize patient records including medical images. For providers, having access to a patient’s images is expected to eliminate the need for additional tests. However, not all caregivers have access to medical images within their EHR interface. It is contingent on the practice’s EHR system and the functionality that comes with it.
Researchers discovered that providers were 40% more likely to order additional tests than providers with no access to imaging results. That figure helps dispel the notion that having more imaging resources will curb test ordering.
It is feasible that a lack of clinical decision support (CDS) systems in the study led to increased numbers of tests. CDS can be integrated into EHR systems to help providers make informed medical decisions, but authors noted that they did not identify if “decision support” tools were within the providers’ EHR systems. It’s fair to question how much impact CDS tools would have on the study’s results, especially because the technology is prevalent in medical imaging services.
That said, not all health IT leaders are buying into the study’s findings. Michael Furukawa, a health economist at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), believes the study was too narrow. “The data are sound, the methods are appropriate, but the focus is limited,” said Furukawa to The Washington Post.