"Paperless" hospital health benefits bode well for outpatient setting

February 27, 2009

The results of a large-scale study that indicated there are health and operational benefits to hospitals that go paperless are likely applicable to outpatient settings, too, says the study's senior author.

The results of a large-scale study that indicated there are health and operational benefits to hospitals that go paperless are likely applicable to outpatient settings, too, says the study’s senior author, who adds that he is planning a follow-up study of office-based physicians.

“We do believe it would help in an outpatient setting,” says Neil R. Powe, MD, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research. “We don’t have the proof yet. We’re just getting started on developing a measurement tool for this setting like we did with hospitals.”

Powe and his colleagues studied more than 160,000 patient discharges from 41 Texas hospitals around the state that used different electronic health record systems. The hospitals with more successfully integrated and multi-functional EHR systems showed a 15 percent reduction it patient mortality, as well as reductions in heart attacks, coronary bypass complications and other health complications. Those hospitals also saved hundreds of dollars per patient thanks to automated test result, order entry, and clinical decision support tools within the EHR system, according to the study, which was published in the January 26, 2009 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

For his outpatient EHR study, Powe expects the paperless practices he studies to show better control of diabetic patients’ blood sugar, improved blood pressure monitoring, more efficient visits, and less redundancy of tests and treatment.

However, some of the benefits could hinge on the office-based systems’ ability to connect with hospitals and other medical offices, Powe says.

“This interoperability among different practices is something we want to look at,” Powe says. “If you could cross the boundaries across different practices that would be extremely helpful.”