Digital Records May Not Cut Health Costs, Study Cautions

This excerpt is taken from Steve Lohr’s article in the New York Times: Digital Records May Not Cut Health Costs, Study Cautions.

“Computerized patient records are unlikely to cut health care costs and may actually encourage doctors to order expensive tests more often, a study published on Monday concludes.

Industry experts have said that electronic health records could generate huge savings — as much as $80 billion a year, according to a RAND Corporation estimate. The promise of cost savings has been a major justification for billions of dollars in federal spending to encourage doctors to embrace digital health records.

But research published Monday in the journal Health Affairs found that doctors using computers to track tests, like X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging, ordered far more tests than doctors relying on paper records.

The use of costly image-taking tests has increased sharply in recent years. Many experts contend that electronic health records will help reduce unnecessary and duplicative tests by giving doctors more comprehensive and up-to-date information when making diagnoses.

The study showed, however, that doctors with computerized access to a patient’s previous image results ordered tests on 18 percent of the visits, while those without the tracking technology ordered tests on 12.9 percent of visits. That is a 40 percent higher rate of image testing by doctors using electronic technology instead of paper records.”

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