Will Electronic Health Records Produce Savings??

The health information technology (HIT) bills now pending in Congress presume that the widespread introduction of electronic medical records will reduce health care spending. At a party Saturday night, I asked an emergency medicine doctor for his opinion. He told me that while electronic prescribing is a vast improvement over paper based prescriptions, electronic medical records will simply slow down the practice of medicine, e.g., doctors will see fewer patients per hour, and thereby increase costs.

I therefore was very interested to learn that the upcoming issue of the Health Affairs journal includes an article by Jann Sidorov, MD, the medical director of Geisinger Health Plan’s Care Coordination Department and a practicing primary care internist titled “It Ain’t Necessarily So: The Electronic Health Record And The Unlikely Prospect Of Reducing Health Care Costs.”

The Health Affairs website provides the following summary of Dr. Sidorov’s article, which is in line with my friend’s opinion:

Electronic health record (EHR) advocates argue that EHRs lead to reduced errors and reduced costs. Many reports suggest otherwise. The EHR often leads to higher billings and declines in provider productivity with no change in provider-to-patient ratios. Error reduction is inconsistent and has yet to be linked to savings or malpractice premiums. As interest in patient-centeredness, shared decision making, teaming, group visits, open access,and accountability grows, the EHR is better viewed as an insufficient yet necessary ingredient. Absent other fundamental interventions that alter medical practice, it is unlikely that the U.S. health care bill will decline as a result of the EHR alone.