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Study shows an electronic medical records system can pay for itself within 16 months

A new study to be published in the July issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons shows that one academic medical center recouped its investment in electronic health records within 16 months. The new analysis counters concerns of health care providers reluctant to invest in electronic medical records systems.

The widespread loss of paper medical records in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is one of several factors behind the recent push to get surgeons and other health care providers to go electronic, according to David A. Krusch, MD, FACS, of the University of Rochester Department of Surgery and co-author of the study.

"Health care providers most frequently cite cost as primary obstacle to adopting an electronic medical records system. And, until this point, evidence supporting a positive return on investment for electronic health records technologies has been largely anecdotal," said Dr. Krusch.

The study measured the return on investment of installing electronic health records at five ambulatory offices representing 28 providers within the University of Rochester (NY) Medical Center. Starting in November 2003, the offices implemented a Touchworks EHR system from Chicago-based Allscripts over the next five months. The study compared the cost of activities such as pulling charts, creating new charts, filing time, support staff salary, and transcription when done electronically in the third quarter of 2005, versus the cost of those same activities performed manually in the third quarter of 2003.

The University of Rochester Medical Center estimated that the new electronic medical records system reduced costs by $393,662 per year, nearly two-thirds of that coming from a sharp reduction in the time required to manually pull charts. Given that its electronic system cost $484,577 to install and operate, it took the University of Rochester Medical Center 16 months to recoup its investment. After the first year, it cost about $114,016 annually to operate the new system, which translates to a savings of $279,546 a year for the medical center, or $9,983 per provider.

Sally Garneski | EurekAlert!
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