Study finds increased use of electronic medical records saves lives

For some patients, a paperless hospital could mean the difference between life and death. According to a report in The Burrill Report, a recent study by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that increasing the use of electronic medical records in hospitals reduced patient deaths by 15 percent. The study, published in the January 26 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, examined a cross-section of urban Texas hospitals to determine the efficacy of computer-based systems. Led by Dr. Ruben Amaransingham, researchers at Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas used a Clinical Information Technology Assessment Tool (CITAT) to assess physicians’ interactions with automated systems. The information systems were divided into four areas: notes and records, test results, order entry, and decision support. For a hospital to receive a high score on the assessment, three factors needed to be present: The information process had to be fully computerized, the physician needed to know how to activate it, and they had to consult the electronic system instead of using another method, such as paper-based documentation. In the study, higher CITAT scores generally correlated with lower patient deaths, fewer complications, and decreased costs. For example, electronically entering patient care instructions for coronary artery bypass grafts reduced the probability of patient death by 55 percent.

President Barack Obama has promised to spend $50 billion over the next five years to computerize the nation’s medical records. Proponents of his Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) say that converting to a paperless system will prevent medical errors and reduce healthcare costs over time. Of course, the conversion brings a host of unique challenges. Issues of patient privacy, interoperability, and cost of implementation will need to be addressed. There is also the issue of training medical staff to use the new system: Less than a quarter of physicians in America currently use electronic health records (EHR).

In the meantime, software companies are already making inroads into the Healthcare IT industry. Affiliated Computer Services of Dallas is working with the Alabama Medicaid agency to launch an EHR program based on ACS’s QTool clinical support tool. A version of the program to be released later this year will include e-prescribing capabilities, a referral function, and a provider message center. Electronic Health Record Version 8.2, developed by AllScripts Healthcare Solutions of Chicago, was recently approved by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT), a nonprofit organization that seeks to create a credible standard for healthcare IT. Other programs that have received CCHIT certification include NextGen Information Services’ EMR 5.5 27, Greenway Medical Technologies’ PrimeSuite, and Medinformatix’s Version 7.0.

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