EHRs linked to higher quality care, study says

The findings of a new study underscore the positive correlation between high quality care in physician practices and the use of electronic health records (EHRs). Experts say the study is one of the first to examine and subsequently validate the clinical value of EHRs.

Officials say the study, published in the October issue of The Journal of General Internal Medicine, demonstrates that the significant investment in EHRs by both the federal government – which has already invested some $29 billion in meaningful use incentives – and physicians who use them will result in better care.

After examining data from 466 physicians in a community setting, researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital found that physicians who used EHRs scored significantly higher on care quality measures for diabetes, breast cancer, chlamydia and colorectal cancer. A composite score of all measures used in the study showed EHR use was associated with an overall higher quality of care.

[See also: More docs questioning benefits of ACA, EHRs.]

Until recently, few studies could validate the clinical value of EHRs, study officials say.

"The previous studies on the effects of electronic health records in the outpatient setting have been mixed," said the study's lead investigator, Lisa M. Kern, MD, associate professor of public health and medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. "This is one of the first studies to find a positive association between the use of EHRs and quality of care in a typical community-based setting, using an off-the-shelf electronic health record that has not been extensively tailored and refined. This increases the generalizability of these findings."

The study used baseline year data that was assembled for the Hudson Valley Medical Home Project, a Hudson Valley Initiative project.

"Use of an EHR is a critical component of advanced primary care," said A. John Blair III, MD, president of Taconic IPA and CEO of MedAllies, the Hudson Valley's health information services provider. "As with any health IT tool, an EHR is only part of the solution and must be integrated into the practice workflow and used by the care team to advance high quality, patient-centered care." All the physicians in the Weill-Cornell study were members of Taconic IPA, which now has an 80 percent EHR adoption rate.

[See also: Study: EHRs and CDS don't improve care.]

The Hudson Valley is one of seven regions recently selected for the Comprehensive Primary Care (CPC) initiative, a four-year, multi-payer initiative led by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation. The initiative will test a service delivery model of comprehensive and accountable primary care; among its emphases is meaningful use of health information technology to improve patient care. Physician practices and hospitals that meet specific federal standards for meaningful use of health information technology are eligible to receive incentive payments from CMS.