ER wait times reduced 22 percent with advanced EHRs

By Diana Manos
10:17 AM

The patients at hospitals with the most advanced type of electronic medical records are likely to spend 22.4 percent less time in the emergency room than at other hospitals, a new study from the W.P.Carey School of Business at Arizona State University shows.

"The good news is that if you choose a hospital with the best type of fully functional electronic medical records, you will probably have a shorter treatment time and a much shorter overall stay in the emergency room," said Assistant Professor Michael Furukawa, who authored the study. "However, I also found that if your hospital has just a basic electronic medical records system, efficiency could actually be worse than at emergency rooms with no electronic medical records at all."

Furukawa said he examined data from the 2006 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. The nationally representative survey included records from more than 30,000 patient visits to 364 hospitals nationwide.

The study examined three categories: hospital emergency rooms with little or no electronic medical records; those with only basic electronic medical records, which lack more advanced functions like online access to certain test results; and emergency rooms with the best, fully functional type of electronic medical records systems.

Furukawa found that hospital emergency rooms with the best electronic medical records had 13.1-percent shorter treatment times, 23.5-percent shorter stays in the ER for patients eventually admitted to the hospital, and 21.3-percent shorter stays in the ER for patients who were treated and discharged without being admitted.

The study also found that hospital emergency rooms with only basic electronic medical records had a 47.3-percent longer wait time for patients specifically dealing with urgent or semi-urgent medical issues.

"Surprisingly, basic electronic medical records were associated with longer wait times on average, especially for patients arriving at the ER with truly urgent medical needs," says Furukawa, "Therefore, the sophistication of health IT systems is important. Some hospitals may just plan to do the minimum necessary to get federal funding, and that may have unintended, negative consequences."

Furukawa said he believes efficiency may improve over time as hospital staffers and others become more familiar with the basic systems.

"Partial electronic medical records are not optimal," he said. "Don't expect to go halfway to achieve the same efficiency and benefits. As the government is announcing its standards for health IT, this should be kept in mind."

Furukawa's new study, "Electronic Medical Records and the Efficiency of Hospital Emergency Departments" was recently published by Medical Care Research and Review. 

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Tift Regional Medical Center sepsis IT

The new Tift Regional Medical Center expansion will open in the fall of 2021 in Tifton, Georgia. The 263,000-square-foot, four-story tower will include a new emergency center, inpatient units and new ICU. (Credit: Tift Regional Medical Center)

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