According to a new study by RAND Corporation researchers, routine use of electronic health records may improve the quality of care provided in primary practices more than other strategies intended to raise the quality of medical care. Researchers in Massachusetts studied 305 groups of primary care physicians and found that practices that utilized multifunctional electronic health records were more likely to provide better care for diabetes and deliver specific health screenings than those that did not. This is one of the first studies to demonstrate a link between the use of electronic health records in community-based medical practices and increased quality care. The study’s findings are published in the October 6 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Past studies by RAND Health and other groups have consistently exposed problems with the quality of health care throughout the United States, including gaps in providing preventive and chronic disease care. These findings prompted the new study that reveals electronic health record systems are linked to increased quality care when the systems included advanced functions such as electronic reminders and were used consistently by a practice.
To conduct the study, RAND researchers surveyed 305 medical practices in 2007 to assess whether they had implemented any of 13 structural capabilities and strategies to improve the quality of their medical care. Examples of the structural changes intended to foster improved quality were: feedback on performance, sending reminders to physicians and patients about needed services, having language interpreter services, offering appointments on evenings and weekends, and adopting electronic health records. The information collected in the survey was then linked to the results reported for 13 commonly used measures of quality in four clinical areas – depression care, diabetes treatment, overuse of medical technology and common health screenings.
Primary care medical practices that used electronic health records performed better on five of the quality measures – two involving diabetes care and screenings for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and chlamydia. Researchers concluded that these findings are relevant to discussions concerning the potential benefits of adopting electronic health records across the nation’s health care system. They also suggested that increasing adoption of electronic health records may help improve the quality of care in important areas of preventive care and chronic disease management.
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