Report concludes that IT saves money

FRAMINGHAM (11/18/2003) - Information technology can save money and lives, according to government investigators who analyzed data from 10 different provider groups, three payers, and one community data network. The findings, which came at the behest of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and are included in a report from the General Accounting Office, followed a year-long examination into some of the nation's most wired healthcare facilities, including the Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente's Northwest unit, and Partners HealthCare in Boston.

The research documented 20 different successful IT initiatives. The director of the GAO office that oversaw the work, David Powner, wrote in a letter to Kennedy that the cost savings realized were significant.

"IT also contributed to other benefits," Powner told the senator, "such as shorter hospital stays, faster communication of test results, improved management of chronic disease, and improved accuracy in capturing charges associated with diagnostic and procedural codes."

At Partners, the report highlighted the utility of the Brigham and Women's Hospital's BICS integrated computing system, which supports clinical, financial, and administrative uses. The system, by highlighting certain oral drugs instead of intravenous medication, was credited with a US$1-million savings. It also eliminated 4,500 redundant laboratory tests, a savings of $100,000.

Likewise, the computer system at Kaiser's Northwest unit -- now the model for the $1.8-billion effort to wire Kaiser's entire network -- saved not only millions of dollars, it also dropped the number of laboratory tests performed by 7.5 percent. At the same time, rates of Pap smears performed rose 16%, and the number of diabetics who reported their disease under control rose 48 percent.

Similar results were seen elsewhere, from the $8.6 million in savings Mayo realized by eliminating paper charts to the more than 1,000 wrong drug or dosage orders avoided by the clinical information system at the 350-bed Danville Regional Medical Center in Virginia.

Still, the GAO cautioned that the report, by specifically targeting groups that were known to have had success with IT, didn't "represent a statistically valid sample of health care delivery organizations and insurers."

Sen. Kennedy and officials from his office declined to comment.

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