Healthcare News & Insights

EHRs lead docs to request more expensive tests

One of the big benefits of electronic health records is that they save money in the long-term. Except that they may not. New research indicates that doctors who have access through EHRs to results of various tests such as CT scans and MRIs are as much as 70% more likely to order those tests than other doctors.

The study, published in Health Affairs, reviewed data on more than 28,000 patient visits to over 1,100 office-based physicians from a 2008 federal study. The information included data such as the doctors’ specialties, whether the doctors had access to EHRs, and the tests ordered at each visit.

The researchers found that even after controlling for factors like the physician specialty and patient demographics, doctors with EHR access ordered various imaging tests in just under 13% of patient visits. Their peers with electronic access ordered the tests in 18% of visits — while doctors who had computerized access ordered the tests in about 22% of visits.

The reasons for the difference aren’t entirely clear and may hinge on factors including the sophistication level of the software doctors are using and whether or not they look at prior test results. More advanced programs, such as those some large hospitals use, can tell a doctor the likelihood that a specific test for a specific patient will provide useful data. But most doctors have much more basic programs that wouldn’t provide such guidance.

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