Physicians who have computerized access to patients' test results are actually more likely to order additional lab and imaging tests, according to a study published in Health Affairs
The study's findings, which point to a 40% to 70% increase in testing among doctors with computerized access to test results, could shed doubt on long-held beliefs about health information technology's potential to reduce healthcare spending and inefficiency, the authors said.
"Our findings should at a minimum raise questions about the whole idea that computerization decreases test ordering and therefore costs in the real world of outpatient practice," lead author Dr. Danny McCormick, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston, said in an e-mailed news release. "As with many other things, if you make things easier to do, people will do them more often."
Using ambulatory data from 2008, the authors found that physicians who had point-of-care access to imaging results ordered additional imaging in 18% of patient visits while physicians who did not have such access ordered imaging tests in only 12.9% of visits.
While past research has predicted billions in savings from computerized records, those studies relied on evidence from high-performing "flagship" providers whose experiences may not mirror those of most physicians, the authors said. They also emphasized the need for more research into the concrete benefits of health IT.