EHRs shown to slow rise of health care costs

The use of electronic health records (EHRs) can reduce the costs of outpatient care by approximately 3%, according to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, included 179,000 patients treated between 2005 and 2009 in three Massachusetts communities, Brocton, Newburyport and North Adams, that adopted electronic health records through the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative pilot program. The program gave funding and support for community physicians to convert paper records to EHRs.

The researchers calculated health care costs per patient per month. They did not find any savings when they looked at measures of total cost or inpatient cost, but there were savings in outpatient care when compared with six control communities that did not adopt EHRs.

The researchers estimated that communities with EHRs saved $5.41 per patient per month. Radiology costs comprised most of the savings, possibly because of improved access to patients’ medical histories.

“We found 3% savings and while that might not sound huge, if it could be sustained or even increased, it would be a substantial amount,” Julia Adler-Milstein, PhD, study author and an assistant professor at the U-M School of Information and School of Public Health, stated in a news release. “That said, when we talk about cost savings, it does not mean that the costs went down, but that the costs did not go up as quickly in the intervention communities. This suggests that adopting electronic records helped slow the rise in health care costs.”

For more information:

Adler-Milstein J. Ann Intern Med. 2013. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-159-2-201307160-00004.

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