A new study funded by the RAND Corporation and published in Health Affairs hints at what could be a payoff in lives saved for all the billions of dollars the U.S. government is doling out for EHR systems in incentives — and the billions more hospitals will invest themselves to implement them.
The good news: If and when all hospitals become compliant with meaningful use stage 1 e-prescribing rules, it “could result in 1.2% fewer deaths of hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries from heart failure and heart attack.” Could, the authors say, because that figure does not equal statistical significance based on the study’s parameters. If proposed stage 2 thresholds remain the same in the final rule, that figure rises to 2.1%.
That might seem like a little bump, but it’s an argument to use against naysayers who theorize that EHR systems actually breed more errors than they prevent and therefore represent a giant waste of taxpayer funds. At times during this early transition period, national health IT implementation looks like a boondoggle as some providers still use paper workflows, some are using hybrid paper-electronic workflows, and others are mostly electronic. That will seem less so as more and more hospitals come online and ditch the paper.
The study authors also say that it’s still difficult to get a bead on disease-specific results of how EHR systems improve health care; for example, “the features offered in computerized provider order entry systems may be more useful in safely managing medications for complex chronic conditions such as heart failure than they are for acute conditions such as pneumonia,” they wrote, but it’s hard to statistically prove it one way or the other right now.
So obviously, there’s a lot more work to be done, by both researchers analyzing new data coming out of these complex information systems just coming online, as well as the hospital CIOs charged with implementing them and getting buy-in from clinical staff. But, it’s a start. One more mark on the positive side of the ledger for those toiling long, mostly thankless hours building our health IT infrastructure.