Increased computerization in US hospitals hasn't made them cheaper or more efficient, Harvard researchers say.
The best they can come up with is that it may have modestly improved the quality of care for heart attacks.
The findings will disappoint President Obama, who believes that health IT, including electronic medical records, will save billions and help make reform affordable.
"Our study finds that hospital computerization hasn't saved a dime, nor has it improved administrative efficiency," said lead author Dr. David Himmelstein, associate professor at Harvard Medical School. "Claims that health IT will slash costs and help pay for the reforms being debated in Congress are wishful thinking."
Data from approximately 4,000 hospitals for the years 2003 to 2007 were analyzed for evidence of increased quality, cost savings or improvements in administrative efficiency.
Although the researchers found that US hospitals increased their computerization between 2003 and 2007, they found no indication that health IT lowered costs or streamlined administration. Hospitals that computerized most rapidly actually had the largest increases in administrative costs.
Modest quality gains were noted in the treatment of heart attacks in more-computerized hospitals.
But Dr Steffie Woolhandler, professor of medicine at Harvard and study co-author, said several factors may explain why health IT has failed to reduce administrative costs.
"Any savings may have been offset by the costs of purchasing and running new computer systems," she said. "In addition, most software is designed around the accounting and billing needs of hospitals, not the clinical side."
The study is published in the American Journal of Medicine.