Electronic medical records have been touted as a tool to increase the quality of health care while decreasing the expense to the patient. This sensible proposition is facing an unexpected setback after a recent study published in the medical journal Health Affairs suggests that the cost of healthcare may increase when doctors use electronic records ("Health IT").
The popular belief is that Health IT provides physicians with easier access to a patient's medical history, allowing the doctor to make more-informed decisions on what laboratory tests may be useful. The comprehensive e-record system should reduce the number of unnecessary lab tests, according to theory; however, the new medical study hinted at the opposite.
The collected data revealed that physicians using Health IT ordered patient lab tests 18 percent of the time, while doctors using a traditional paper system only ordered tests for 12.9 percent of their patients. The results are troubling because they suggest that physicians using Health IT may be more imprecise in understanding what tests are necessary. Perhaps the use of e-records correlates to a physician's age, and the younger generations of doctors are less skilled at diagnosing cancer and other time-sensitive health problems?
The Health Affairs report will certainly prompt follow-up studies, as a larger sampling of data is needed to make a fully informed opinion on the impact that electronic medical records will have on the quality and cost of healthcare.
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Source: CNN News, "Electronic medical records may add to costs," Stephanie Smith, March 6, 2012