Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Costs prevent doctors from adopting electronic health records


Two years ago, the US government set aside close to $20 billion in stimulus funds to encourage hospitals and physicians to digitize their patient records as a way to save time and reduce doctor mistakes. But according to a survey published this week, most physicians remain wary of the price of going electronic.

The survey of 500 American health practitioners, conducted by the web-based medical practice management company athenahealth, found that 75% of physicians think that so-called electronic health records (EHRs) can improve patient care, yet 88% said that costs remain a big issue for implementation.

Indeed, establishing a new electronic medical record system can set back a physician up to $124,000, according to a 2009 study by the advisory firm Avalere Health.

However, such hefty investments up front can pay off in the long run. For example, a December 2010 survey from CDW Healthcare found that medical practices can rake in as much as $151,000 per physician per year in cost savings once EHRs are put in place.

What’s more, according to Kenneth Mandl, an informatics researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, the cost of adopting EHRs can be reduced dramatically if the systems keep pace with emerging technology — for instance, by creating smart phone-like apps for managing medical records. “These applications can flexibly evolve with the clinician and with health reform,” Mandl told Nature Medicine.

To read more about EHRs, check out our recent news focus.

Image: CDC


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