E-health records: Big value for small practices, too

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E-health records: Big value for small practices, too

Cost-savings, fewer medication errors and adverse events, pharmacy study indicates
Sarah C. Guthrie

The age-old joke about physicians’ bad handwriting is no laughing matter. An illegible prescription can have dire consequences. Electronic health records reduce those effects by taking handwriting out of the equation, and early studies have shown clear benefits to hospitals that decide to bear the upfront costs and invest in the e-platforms.

Less research has focused on the value of these systems to smaller and midsize practices. 

Sarah Guthrie
Dr. Beth Devine of the UW School of Pharmacy led the study.
picture of Dr. Beth Devine
Dr. Beth Devine of the UW School of Pharmacy led the study.

A recent study by the University of Washington School of Pharmacy and The Everett Clinic showed the dramatic impact electronic records could have in both small (1-20 providers) and midsize medical groups (up to about 400 providers).
The researchers estimated that in a five-year span, a basic electronic prescription system would save $18 million and result in 1.5 million fewer medication errors and 14.5 thousand fewer adverse drug events in a 400-provider medical group.
The benefits were significant in smaller groups, as well. In a practice group of just five providers, over five years, the study showed electronic prescriptions save $265,000, lead to 3,875 fewer medication errors and 39 fewer adverse drug events.
“Our results suggest that adoption of electronic prescription tools in the ambulatory setting of small to midsized medical groups provides excellent value for the investment, and is a cost-effective strategy to improve medication safety,” wrote Dr. Beth Devine, associate professor in the Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research and Policy Program and the study's lead investigator.
The team used a decision-analytic model to estimate the cost-effectiveness of a basic computerized provider order entry system vs. traditional paper-based prescribing in reducing medication errors and adverse drug events. Physicians who adopt electronic health records and comply with U.S. criteria for Meaningful Use are eligible for financial incentives.
The study, “Cost-Effectiveness of a Computerized Provider Order Entry System in Improving Medication Safety in Ambulatory Care,” was published in Value in Health.