Assumptions in the Quality of Medical Centers Based on Records May Lead to Worse Care

Over the last few years, many Americans have assumed when comparing healthcare facilities, those that embrace technology in all aspects of their business are superior. This especially includes the transition from paper records to digital ones. However, a study conducted over a three-year period in Pennsylvania and New Jersey showed that this difference might not actually correlate with better healthcare. In some cases, it even led to the opposite. The driving concept behind switching to digital records is that, with digital copies, there is a much lower chance of misplacing records and testing patients excessively. This would both improve healthcare in general and cut costs at medical centers. To push this transition, Congress even allocated $27 billion to the initiative with the stipulation that medical facilities will be penalized financially if they fail to switch to digital records. Unfortunately, it appears that this switch does not necessarily lead to better overall results. In fact, a study focusing on 42 medical centers for diabetes patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey showed that those facilities that switched performed worse. Concerning testing, 61 percent of patients at centers using paper records had participated in all recommended testing, while the same could only be said of 51 percent of patients who received treatment from centers using digital records.

However, all centers improved over the course of the three-year study, meaning that increased evaluation of medical centers could lead to better healthcare for all Americans, particularly those who suffer from diabetes. Experts suggest that individuals with diabetes make the effort to learn about recommended treatments and tests in which they should participate. This will prevent them from mistakenly placing trust in a center because of its digital records, despite the fact that the center may still fail to provide the best healthcare possible. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and the American Diabetes Association are two reliable sources for this information. This lack of improvement from switching to digital records has also been seen in what are known as “pay-for-performance” plans. Essentially, if doctors provide optimal healthcare and cut costs according to specific guidelines, they receive monetary rewards for their work. The plans include a switch to digital records. In the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the plans have not affected medical care for diabetes patients whatsoever. The researchers who conducted their study believe that the main reason for the lack of improvement is that switching to a different medium for record keeping also requires a change in mindset. This change is something they failed to see in almost every medical center they monitored. They also argue that the policies driving the change need to be more focused, and that policymakers should take a more systematic approach to the problem. However, the researchers do admit that, as their study took place more than five years ago, it is possible that the issues they observed are no longer major issues. Many more medical centers use electronic records now than during the time of the study.

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