US electronic records pilot improves care for diabetic patients

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A three-year US study has concluded electronic patient records deliver substantial cost savings and care improvements on paper ones.

A three-year study carried out in the US has confirmed that in medical settings, electronic patient records deliver both substantial cost savings and improvements to frontline care.

Back in 2010, the Buffalo-Niagara region of west New York was awarded a $16.1 million (£9.85 million) federal stimulus grants to study whether or not converting records to an electronic format would improve the health and treatment of people with diabetes.

According to Buffalo News, more than 300 doctors took part in the programme and their findings were uniformly positive, with the new systems helping clinicians to control patients’ blood sugar levels and prevent avoidable hospitalisations.

At 57 practices that used electronic patient records consistently over a one-year period, the percentage of patients with uncontrolled blood sugar levels dropped by an average of four per cent – and as much as ten per cent in some cases.

Furthermore, for every 100 people with diabetes, the practices prevented three avoidable hospitalisations. This translates to savings of around $600 annually per patient, the researchers noted.

If 20 per cent of the estimated number of diabetics in the Buffalo-Niagara region were covered by the same system, they added, as much as $18 million per year could be saved.

"I would say it met our expectations. We have high expectations for what technology can do," commented Daniel Porreca, executive director of HEALTHeLINK, which implemented the programme. "We expected to find that impact on care, and we’re starting to see the evidence."

There are a variety of ways electronic document management systems can deliver improvements over paper-based ones. In this study, the researchers made standardised diabetes registries to track patients’ lab tests and results, facilitating easier analysis of whether or not treatments were working. The system also sent out automatic alerts when a patient missed a scheduled appointment. 

"You can’t do the type of analysis we’re talking about with paper," Mr Porreca argued.

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