Many experts argue that better use of information technology (IT) in hospitals across the country can improve patient outcomes and at the same time lower the cost of care. Now comes publication of a study of IT use by hospitals in Texas that supports that view. Researchers determined that extensive use of information technology helped hospitals in Texas cut costs and save lives.
Results of this study, titled “Clinical Information Technologies and Inpatient Outcomes: A Multiple Hospital Study”, were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine on January 26, 2009. Researchers surveyed physicians affiliated with 41 Texas hospitals. These physicians were treating patients for a variety of conditions, including heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia. Researchers determined that relatively modest increases in the use of technology by a hospital often had dramatic results.
For the study, researchers evaluated both the level of automation and physician interactions with each hospital’s information system in 41 Texas hospitals between December 1, 2005, and May 30, 2006.
Using the Clinical Information Technology Assessment Tool, researchers found that, for all medical conditions, a 10-point increase in the automation of notes and records at a hospital was associated with a 15% decrease in the adjusted odds of fatal hospitalizations at that institution. Higher scores in use of computerized order entry systems were associated with 9% and 55% decreases in the adjusted odds of death for myocardial infarction and for coronary artery bypass graft procedures, respectively. For all causes of hospitalization, higher scores in use of decision support software systems were associated with a 16% decrease in the adjusted odds of complications. Higher scores on test results, order entry, and decision support were associated with lower costs for all hospital admissions.
“These findings tell us, straight from the physicians using it, that this technology works to improve quality of care for patients, which should be the first priority of health IT,” said Anne-Marie J. Audet, M.D., Vice President for Quality Improvement and Efficiency for The Commonwealth Fund, which provided support for the study.
At publication of the study, Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis said health IT is a critical component of efforts to reform the U.S. health care system. “Just as investment in railroads, air traffic control, and interstate highways facilitated economic development and national prosperity in the 20th century, so too will the spread of health IT and the development of a national health information network bring long-run benefits and gains to the nation in the 21st century,” she said. “It is crucial that our federal leadership move now to harness the power of information technology and put the nation on a path to high performance.”
Closer to home, lab directors and pathologists working in hospital-based laboratories will want to take note of these findings. As the study authors pointed out, there have been few studies that have examined the relationship between the use of information technologies in hospitals and how such use might contribute to improved clinical outcomes and better financial performance. The conclusions of this study can be used when hospital labs are ready to enhance their informatics capabilities and want added credibility with their administration.