Four Health Leaders Weigh in on Whether EMRs Save Money

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , November 24, 2009

Two groups of Harvard researchers last week reported separate study results showing health information technology systems do not save money. The author of one of the reports said that any claim that it does is "baseless propaganda."

That inspired several health officials, who are trying to improve quality and patient safety, to weigh in with their views. Here is what four health leaders think about whether electronic medical records can actually save money:

Jim Lott
Executive Vice President
Hospital Council of Southern California
Los Angeles

"Looking for savings in hospitals that use EMRs is short-sighted. The real payday for use of EMRs will come with interoperability. Measurable savings will be realized as middleware is installed that will allow for the electronic transmission and translation of patient records across different proprietary systems between delivery networks.

"The savings for hospital-centric EMRs will balloon when integration of these confined systems with the rest of healthcare delivery system is realized. The ideal circumstance would be the use of EMR smart cards that would be updated with every patient encounter and that can be read electronically by every medical provider treating the patient, regardless of the providers' medical network or health plan affiliation.

"This virtual integration will facilitate more accurate and speedy patient assessments, diagnoses and treatment plans, and it will reduce duplicate and unnecessary imaging and laboratory tests, as medical providers will have immediate access to the most recent work done on patients both in and outside their own delivery networks."

Neil R. Powe, MD, MPH, MBA
Chief of Medical Services
San Francisco General Hospital
Constance B. Wofsy Distinguished Professor and
Vice-chair of Medicine
University of California San Francisco

"The paper as I see it tried to accomplish a lot. One limitation is that they used rather blunt measurement to assess the information systems.

"You can have all the components of the information system in place, but if they are not being used by physicians, one might not see an effect. In contrast, our study measured whether physicians are aware of the components and how physicians are using the components of the information system.

"Physician order entry and decision support I believe offer the most chance of improving healthcare delivery. There are a lot of information systems with bells and whistles that don't focus on physicians' real needs."

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