Healthcare News & Insights

Study: HIEs cut down on expensive lab tests

A recent study got a lot of press after reporting that electronic health record (EHR) systems caused doctors to order more expensive lab tests. In response, another study has been published showing opposite results. 

The initial study, released by Harvard researchers, was based on data from more than 28,000 patient visits to more than 1,000 physicians. Doctors using paper records ordered tests after 13% of visits, while the number jumped to 18% for those with EHRs. The gap was even greater for more advanced and expensive tests, such as MRIs and CT scans.

However, a report from another Harvard research team was published in the March issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study looked at 110,000 patient encounters at two academic hospitals, comparing visits from a year before a health information exchange (HIE) was rolled out to those from up to three years after the implementation.

After the HIE was introduced, the number of lab tests orders dropped by 49% to 53%, depending on the type of statistical analysis used.

The researchers’ conclusion: Having access to more data enabled doctors to be more selective and only choose tests that were necessary.

The first study, on the other hand, concluded that doctors ordered more tests because IT systems made it easier to do so. That study received criticism from several experts, including David Blumenthal, the former national coordinator for health IT. As he pointed out, the study simply looked at the number of tests ordered, and not overall costs. It’s possible, he says, that the additional tests ordered by doctors with EHRs were able to cut costs in some other way.

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