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Hospitals Using Health IT Provide Better Care at Lower Cost

When physicians use health information technology to its full potential, the result is fewer deaths, fewer complications, and lower health care costs, according to the first study to directly measure physicians' use of health information technology IT in a hospital setting.

Commonwealth Fund–supported researchers led by Ruben Amarasingham, M.D., associate chief of medicine at Parkland Health & Hospital System and assistant professor of medicine at UT Southwestern Medical School, and Neil Powe, M.D., professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, surveyed physicians in 41 Texas hospitals about their use of several different types of health IT, including electronic notes and records, order entry, and clinical decision support. They found that relatively modest increases in technology use produced dramatic results. For example, a 10-percentage-point increase in the use of electronic notes and medical records resulted in a 15 percent decrease in patient deaths. And when doctors electronically entered their instructions for patient care, death rates dropped up to 55 percent for some procedures.

Increased use of health IT was also linked to lower costs. Hospitals that automated the reporting of test results had per-admission costs that were $110 lower than hospitals that did not. There were even larger savings associated with hospitals’ use of computerized order entry systems ($132 per admission) and decision-support systems ($538 per admission).

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The health conditions targeted by the study, which was published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine (Jan. 26), included myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, coronary artery bypass grafting, and pneumonia.

"These findings tell us, straight from the physicians using it, that this technology works to improve quality of care for patients—the first priority of health information technology," said Anne-Marie J. Audet, M.D., the Commonwealth Fund’s vice president for quality improvement and efficiency. “But, in order to save lives and keep costs downs, health information technology has to be used to its fullest extent."

To do so, clinicians must be adequately trained to use the new technologies, the authors say. IT systems, moreover, must be designed around clinical workflows—to ensure harmony between technology, people, and organizational processes.

"As President Obama and his health care team consider investing in this technology for the nation, it makes sense to factor in ongoing support and training for health care providers, so that the technology can live up to its potential," Audet says.

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