Johns Hopkins Study Correlates Health IT With Sweeping Efficiency Improvements

11-6-2013 5-20-55 PM

A recent study published in the November issue of Health Affairs forecasts incredible efficiency gains that it says will be realized as the nation continues to roll out health IT systems across its hospitals and practices. Skeptics will note that similar claims have been made for years, and were the underlying reason for the $25 billion in funding the HITECH Act received, but that little evidence has ever surfaced to substantiate the efficiency improvements in real world environments.

The study’s lead author Jonathan Weiner, DrPH, is a professor of health policy and management and health informatics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is also the director of the Center for Population Health Information Technology, which may contribute to the study’s exuberant attitude toward health IT. He says “The results of our study are important because they provide a forward looking snapshot of how health IT will profoundly impact the American health care workforce over the next decade or two.” The study’s co-author was David Blumenthal MD, former National Coordinator for Health IT and current president of The Commonwealth Fund.

The study estimates that once EHRs are fully implemented in just 30 percent of the nations clinics, US doctors will be able to care for between four and nine percent more patients. The study also suggests that health IT tools will make it possible to safely shift more responsibility onto physician assistants and nurse practitioners, resulting in an additional four to seven percent decrease in demand on US physicians.

The study then looks at telehealth as a means of reducing demand on doctors. Researchers estimate that upwards of 12 percent of patient care could be handled remotely by doctors working in other parts of the country or world. For this to become reality, far more than just health IT infrastructures would need to be put in place. Health policy would need to be changed to authorize reimbursement for virtual visits, and licensure laws would need to be amended so that physicians could deliver care to patients across state lines. Outsourcing care internationally would bring another layer of complexity altogether.

Researchers conclude that once EHRs are fully implemented in 70 percent of us practices, the forecasted results on demand could more than double. This, they say, should be taken into consideration when policymakers consider options for dealing with the anticipated physician shortage.

The study’s findings were based on health informatics and health services research literature published within the MEDLINE database, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s database on health IT.

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