Big Bucks, Small Bang

A Comprehensive Study Finds No Savings from Electronic Medical Records Efforts

In June, Wharton health care management professor Mark V. Pauly told Knowledge@Wharton that "no one has done the careful research to indicate that if one health care system has information technology and the other doesn't, then the care is different. There are no controlled trials." All that technology is no panacea, he warned, suggesting that adoption of the technology to support the sharing of medical records could actually raise costs because of culture clashes, training, the implementation of the systems and the labor required to maintain the new infrastructure. "The best-case scenario is that information technology will improve quality but not lower costs," Pauly said. "The worst case is that there's no difference at all."

Today, a study of 3,000 hospitals at various stages in the adoption of computerized health records will be presented in Boston. Its conclusion? Pauly's worst-case scenario. "The way electronic medical records are used now has not yet had a real impact on the quality or cost of health care," the study's lead researcher, Ashish K. Jha, of the Harvard School of Public Health, told The New York Times.

The Obama administration has pointed to the widespread adoption of electronic medical records as a source of health care costs savings. It has proposed incentives for the "meaningful use" of "certified" records, but has not yet specified the standards, The Times reports.

Though Pauly was not surprised by the study's findings, he and others think it is possible that once the systems are in place and health care providers are trained to use them effectively, there could be some cost savings. But his new best-case scenario is many years down the road, he suggests. "The best you can say is, hang on, maybe we'll get there."

More from Knowledge@Wharton:

Lean Health Care: Lower Costs, Better Outcomes

Another Hurdle to Health Care Reform: Too Few General Practice Doctors

One Way to Lower Health Costs: Pay People to Be Healthy

Information Technology: Not a Cure for the High Cost of Health Care

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