Study: Electronic medical records lower infant mortality

Posted by David Gomez

According to a new study, the expanded use of electronic medical records would substantially reduce infant mortality in the U.S.

The forthcoming study is titled "Can Healthcare IT Save Babies?" and it will be published in the Journal of Political Economy.
    
The study says that a 10 percent increase in hospital use of basic electronic records would save 16 babies for every 100,000 live births. It estimates that a complete national transition to electronic records would save 6,400 infants each year in the U.S.
    
Numerous health professionals support electronic record as a way to improve care and lower costs. For obstetricians, electronic records could make it easier to detect high risk pregnancies and manage care.

But, until now there was surprisingly little data to support those claims, according to the study's authors, Amalia Miller of the University of Virginia and the RAND Corporation and Catherine Tucker of the MIT Sloan School of Management.

"This paper offers evidence that suggests cautious optimism about the potential value of … [electronic records] in improving neonatal health outcomes and current health policy that is directed towards increasing the spread of these technologies," the researchers write.

Not only would they improve care, electronic records would also be cost-effective compared to other healthcare interventions, the research found. Miller and Tucker estimate that the cost of saving one baby through electronic medical records is about $531,000. Compare that to a large expansion in Medicaid coverage for children in the 1980s that cost about $840,000 per life saved, and you have savings.

The study looked at infant death rates at hospitals with and without electronic records in more than 2,500 U.S. counties over 12 years. The broad data set let the researchers control for other factors that may influence infant mortality, like a county's socioeconomic status.

Every year 18,000 babies die in the U.S. within 28 days of birth. That means that the U.S. is 43rd worldwide in infant mortality rate—similar to nations like Slovakia and Montenegro and behind most of the European Union. We’re freaking falling behind people!

The slow adoption of electronic records compared to other industrial nations is playing a sizable role in the low U.S. ranking, the study suggests.

The study also suggests that the $19.2 billion allocated for electronic records in the 2009 economic stimulus package was tax-payer money that was well spent. "These findings provide an empirical basis for government policy intervention to hasten the diffusion of healthcare [information technology]," the researchers conclude.

Now to contrast that good news with a bit of bad news, Tuesday the inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department found the electronic medical records system that is currently being pushed has some huge privacy and security problems. The office says that the linking of everyone’s medical records to a computerized system could open the data up to hackers.

So if the Office of Inspector General is correct, we could be putting babies in danger by trying to save them.

The issue of electronic medical records is an important one. There are good and bad things about a completely electronic medical records system. Technology usually helps improve most systems, but as far medical records go, it might be better to leave them alone and do it old school. How often do people have their physical file copy of their medical records stolen?

What do you think? Are you for or against fully electronic medical records?