If they save money and don't kill you, digital records could save healthcare

Study shows no improvement in care; but ignores main goal

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This could be an awkward week for some in the healthcare industry.

Especially those working on IT projects being funded by as much as $27 billion set aside by the Obama administration to help get the U.S. healthcare system to upgrade from its record-keeping from the paper, parchment and cuneiform it loves so much to actual computerized versions everyone can use.

Yesterday the Archives of Internal Medicine published a study from Stanford showing that, even when paired with decision-support tools designed to make complex decisions simpler and more accurate, EHRs may do little or nothing to improve the quality of care patients receive.

"I believe this study suggests that it is naive to believe that the simple presence of an electronic health record or even these systems with more advanced functionality will by themselves change the quality of care," according to an interview Reuters did with the lead author, Randall Stafford of Stanford's Prevention Research Center.

A similar study Stafford published in 2007 looking at EHRs without decision support returned the same result.

The study is getting a lot of exposure and a lot of discussion online, but it faces the wrong direction to get a result that's relevant to most of the industry and those who pay for or rely on it.

The study focuses on whether or not EHRs improve the quality of care, and is a surprise because it is logical to think they would.

It doesn't look much at the cost or efficiency of supporting, delivering and paying for care, which is the real point of the pressure to upgrade to digital records.

It's not that Stafford is wrong, or even offbase, really. He's no piker -- faculty member at Stanford and Harvard, PhD, fellowship in epidemiology at the Centers for Disease Control (which is like going to the Vatican to study how design big, silly hats and dignified-looking bathrobes for men).

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