Electronic Medical Records Don’t Benefit Patient Care: Study

January 25, 2011 Updated: February 5, 2011

Electronic medical records maintained by doctors may not do much to improve the quality of outpatient health care, a recent study by Stanford researchers has revealed.

Out of 20 quality indicators, patient visits at physician offices with electronic recordkeeping were found to be significantly superior to visits at doctors that used paper records in only one aspect: diet counseling for overweight and obese adults. The report added there were no other "significant" differences in quality.

The study, which analyzed more than 250,000 surveys from patients’ visits with doctors in private offices and hospitals between 2005 and 2007, concluded that electronic health records did not benefit health care quality despite supplemental clinical decision support (CDS), which gives doctors advice on how to treat patients.

“These results raise concerns about the ability of health information technology to fundamentally alter outpatient care quality," the paper, published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine, said.

The findings are a blow to electronic medical record proponents, including the White House, which has promised more than $20 billion in funds to help push a swifter swap to electronic records, according to Reuters.

Nationwide, electronic records are used in almost one-third (30 percent) of the more than 1.1 billion patient visits per year. Clinical decision support was present in more than half (57 percent) of all visits with electronic recordkeeping, or about one in every five (17 percent) total patient visits.

Researchers and coauthors Max Romano and Randall Stafford noted that their report rebuffs rhetoric that electronic health records can considerably improve care.

“While our findings do not rule out the possibility that the use of [clinical decision support] may improve quality in some settings, they cast doubt on the argument that the use of [electronic health records] is a ‘magic bullet’ for health care quality improvement, as some advocates imply,” the paper stated.