Coordinated care with EHRs and messages improves outcomes, saves costs

Electronic health records, with some help from the EHR Incentive Programs, connect physicians with one another and allow them to work collaboratively to solve patients' problems. A great example of care coordination is demonstrated in a recent column written by Matthew J. Press, M.D., for the New England Journal of Medicine.

In Press' article, he detailed the experience of treating a patient whom the piece refers to as Mr. K. Press wrote that the over 80 days of treating Mr. K, he worked with 11 other clinicians as the patient had five procedures and 11 office visits with physicians other than Press. To maintain contact with the 11 clinicians, Press recalled that he made eight phone calls and sent 32 emails as well as gleaned information from Mr. K's EHR. Throughout the process, the patient had a kidney stone discovered and an MRI identified a mass that was inferred to be cholangiocarcinoma. Both procedures went smoothly on the last of the 80 days, but Press accounts the success of Mr. K's treatment to proper, effective care coordination.

Press stated that care coordination not only gave the patient a higher quality of care but also lowered the costs for Mr. K, the primary physicians and insurance providers. Without modern technologies such as an EHR system and digital communication, the patient's treatment would not have gone as well as it did.

Savings from coordinated care
The reduced spending is a small benefit, but not one to be overlooked. A study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and published in Health Affairs found that 4 out of 11 programs that were a part of the Medicare Coordinated Care Demonstration reduced hospitalizations by up to 33 percent, but the researchers also discovered that coordination care approaches save money when organizations used cost-effective means of delivering interventions. A lower number of hospital admissions saves the hospital resources over the short and long term and helps the patient reduce fees associated with numerous medical visits.

Taking the time to work with other health providers to administer coordinated care with EHR interoperability and messaging systems may not always reduce costs, but there is little doubt that these technologies save lives, InformationWeek reported. However, the need to calculate every cost and expenditure does not provide patients with better care. EHRs will only become more important when treating patients in the future if the past sets any example.