Medical informatics systems do not always save money, says report

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Despite the initial expenditure necessary to implement clinical informatics technology in healthcare facilities, many experts agree that ultimately, such systems help hospitals save money. However, according to a new study published by Health Affairs, this is not always the case, reports Kaiser Health News.

The study suggests that while medical informatics systems have been touted as a way to reduce spending on things such as imaging tests, physicians who have access to clinical informatics technology are 40 to 70 percent more likely to order additional tests. Results of the report were based on the 2008 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which recorded more than 28,000 patient visits to 1,187 physicians.

Danny McCormick, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said that the ease with which physicians can access additional information thanks to medical informatics technology can subtly alter their clinical behavior. He said that if a physician orders a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan through an electronic health record, they “know with certainty the report will show up the next day on [their] computer screen with no hassle. But without a computer record, [they] might have to struggle to get it.”

According to Information Week, physicians with direct access to computerized medical records ordered MRI imaging scans 18 percent of the time, compared to 12.5 percent of physicians who did not have access to clinical informatics technology. The news source reports that instances of physicians ordering additional blood tests were higher in doctors with medical informatics systems.

Some experts have questioned the validity of the data, as it was based on information gathered at a time when clinical informatics technology and health information exchanges were much less prevalent than they are today. McCormick concedes that, although the results of the study appear contrary to popular opinion, there are many factors relating to the report’s findings that need to be taken into consideration.