Editorial in The New York Times: Experts have long argued that computerized patient records will save the health system money by helping doctors reduce the number of redundant or inappropriate tests they order. A new study published in Health Affairs, disputes that, suggesting that office-based physicians who have access to electronic records of patient care are actually more likely to order additional imaging tests and laboratory tests than doctors who rely on paper record.
The study did not explore why. But its leader, Dr. Danny McCormick, an assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School, suggested that the ease of ordering tests and receiving results by computer may encourage doctors to order more tests than they would if they had to get results by phone and interpret blurry fax images.
The study’s authors argue that previous research that showed savings were done at leading medical centers with sophisticated technology. Many doctors’ offices buy off-the-shelf systems, primarily for billing purposes, that may not be able to track down redundancies or lack software to help doctors decide if a test is appropriate.
We still believe that widespread adoption of electronic medical records will improve care and reduce costs. It is also clear that many office-based physicians will need help in making the transition. No matter how adept doctors become with computerized records, they will need to be pushed to rein in excessive use of tests.