I just ran across this article in the NY Times: Digital Records May Not Cut Health Care Costs
Industry experts have said that electronic health records could generate huge savings — as much as $80 billion a year, according to a RAND Corporation estimate. The promise of cost savings has been a major justification for billions of dollars in federal spending to encourage doctors to embrace digital health records.
But research published Monday in the journal Health Affairs found that doctors using computers to track tests, like X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging, ordered far more tests than doctors relying on paper records.
The use of costly image-taking tests has increased sharply in recent years. Many experts contend that electronic health records will help reduce unnecessary and duplicative tests by giving doctors more comprehensive and up-to-date information when making diagnoses.
The study showed, however, that doctors with computerized access to a patient’s previous image results ordered tests on 18 percent of the visits, while those without the tracking technology ordered tests on 12.9 percent of visits. That is a 40 percent higher rate of image testing by doctors using electronic technology instead of paper records.
I think another way to look at this is that healtlh care suffers from a generalized "failure to communicate," and IT's greatest contribution is to improve communication. The EHR is one way to communicate, but not the only one, and casting everything in such a heavyweight issue with so much excess baggage blinds us to simpler, less expensive ways to improve health care.