EHRs Beat Paper in Head-to-Head Competition

Gienna Shaw, September 6, 2011

Electronic health records (EHRs) show promise to improve quality of care and patient outcomes—that’s why the federal government is investing billions of dollars in them. But data to quantify that potential has been inconclusive and sometimes controversial. Authors of a new study, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, say they are among the first to offer hard evidence that in a head-to-head competition, electronic records beat paper.

The researchers tracked quality measures and outcomes for more than 27,000 Cleveland-area adults with diabetes and found that those who were treated at physician practices using EHRs enjoyed substantially better outcomes than those who were treated by doctors relying on paper records.

The more than 500 primary care physicians in 46 practices who took part in the study are all members of Better Health Greater Cleveland, a nonprofit healthcare alliance made up of providers, health plans, employers, and government agencies focused on improving the health of chronic disease patients in Northeast Ohio.

Researchers looked at four national quality standards for care:

  1. timely measurements of blood sugar,
  2. management of kidney problems,
  3. eye examinations,
  4. vaccinations for pneumonia

Outcome measures included meeting national benchmarks for blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol control, as well as more patient-driven actions such as achieving a non-obese Body Mass Index and avoiding tobacco use.

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