A new study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting the potential for significant healthcare cost reductions when physicians know the up-front cost of ordering routine lab tests.
The latest study involved 215 primary care physicians at Atrius Health, an alliance of six non-profit medical groups, and a home health and hospice agency in Massachusetts that uses an integrated electronic health record system. Physicians in an intervention group received real-time information on laboratory costs for 27 tests when they placed their electronic orders, while physicians in a control group did not.
Changes in the monthly laboratory ordering rate between the intervention and control groups were compared for 12 months before and six months after the intervention started. Six months after the intervention, all physicians taking part in the study were asked to assess their attitudes regarding costs and cost displays.
Lead researcher Thomas D. Sequist, MD, found a significant decrease in the ordering rates of both high and low cost range tests by physicians to whom the costs of the tests were displayed electronically in real-time. This included a significant relative decrease in ordering rates for four of the 21 lower cost laboratory tests, and one of six higher cost laboratory tests.