RAND Corporation LogoRegular use of electronic health records seem to improve the quality of care given in community – based primary care practices more as compared to other ordinary strategies intended to raise the quality of medical care. Atleast this is what a latest study by RAND Corporation claims.

For the purpose of the study, the experts examined nearly 305 groups of primary care physicians in Massachusetts. They discovered that practices which made use of multifunctional electronic health records seemed to be more apt in delivering enhanced care for diabetes. Also, they were noted to have provided certain health screenings as compared to those that did not.

The quality differences discovered in the study appear to be modest in size. However, this is the foremost study to have demonstrated a link between use of electronic health records in community-based medical practices and higher quality care.

“Overall, we were surprised by how few strategies to improve the quality of care were linked to measurably better performance. The strategy that showed the most impact was use of advanced electronic health records,” says the lead author of the study, Dr. Mark W. Friedberg, and an associate natural scientist at RAND, a nonprofit investigative organization.

When the electronic health record systems comprised of advanced functions, they seemed to be linked to higher quality care, particularly, if a medical practice used these systems on a regular basis. Apparently, these advanced functions included electronic reminders to physicians.

Studies by RAND Health and other groups are noted to have recognized problems with the quality of health care in the United States together with gaps in the deliverance of preventive and chronic disease care. In order to address these inadequacies, primary care physician practices could possibly be encouraged to invest in various types of structural changes intended to promote improved quality.

Supposedly, these structural changes include providing feedbacks to physicians based on their performances, sending reminders to physicians and patients about required services, having language interpreter services, offering appointments on evenings and weekends in addition to adopting electronic health records.

It was believed that the study experts were able to examine whether such strategies could be linked to higher quality of care through utilizing a distinctive set of information about physician practices. Apparently, this set of information was gathered by the Massachusetts Health Quality Partners.

The study experts surveyed nearly 305 medical practices in the year 2007 in order to assess whether they had set into place any of 13 structural capabilities. Allegedly, these structural capabilities are aimed at increasing the quality of medical care.

That information appears to have been linked to the results reported by each practice for nearly 13 frequently used measures of quality in four clinical areas. These areas were known to include diabetes treatment, depression care, overuse of medical technology and common health screenings.

The findings revealed that primary care medical practices which made use of multifunctional electronic health records seemed to have performed better on five of the quality measures. Apparently, these quality measures comprised two involving diabetes care as well as screenings for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and chlamydia.

In addition, medical practice groups which had frequent meetings to discuss quality appear to have reported better results for three measures of diabetes care. Furthermore, practices that reported high physician awareness of patient experience ratings apparently reported higher performance on screenings for breast and cervical cancer.

It was also observed that no other structural capabilities were linked with more than one measure of quality. Additionally, no capabilities appear to have been associated with better performance on depression care or overuse of services.

The authors were of the opinion that their findings seem to be relevant to the current discussions about the possible benefits of broadly adopting electronic health records across the nation’s health care system. Latest federal legislation is believed to have called for novel incentives for physicians who make ‘meaningful use’ of the technology.

Friedberg further stated that, “Electronic health records with advanced features are uncommon nationally. Our results suggest that increasing their adoption may help improve the quality of care in important areas of preventive care and chronic disease management.”

Moreover, the study may possibly have implications for ‘medical home’ demonstration projects. Since, constant efforts are being made in order to improve the quality of medical care by investing in the capabilities of primary care practice groups.

The authors anticipate that their findings may possibly assist in guiding expectations about the magnitude of quality improvements which may be achievable from these investments.

The findings of the study have been published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.