VA's health IT improves quality of care

VA's health IT improves quality of care

The Department of Veterans Affairs has shown that health information technology provides improved quality of health care and substantial cost savings, according to a study in the public health journal "Health Affairs." The use of technology lowered costs while producing improvements in quality, safety and patient satisfaction.

"VA has seen its investment in health information technology pay off for veterans and taxpayers for many years, and this study provides positive evidence for this correlation," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement. "The benefits have exceeded costs, proving that the implementation of secure, efficient systems of electronic records is a good idea for all our citizens."

The study, which covered a 10-year period between 1997 and 2007, found that VA's health IT investment during the period was $4 billion, while savings were more than $7 billion. The authors noted that most of the savings are in areas that also improve quality, safety and patient satisfaction.

More than 86 percent of the savings were due to eliminating duplicated tests and reducing medical errors. The rest of the savings came from lower operating expenses and reduced workload. The authors further noted that these were conservative estimates of net value, based on available literature and published studies.

VA has also begun piloting health record exchanges with the Department of Defense and private-sector providers. These programs are paving the way for the seamless, lifetime exchange of the health-care records of veterans, regardless of where they live.

VA has been using health IT systems for more than 20 years to improve medical outcomes and efficiency in delivering care. The use has grown to support the full range of patient care, including computerized patient records, bar-coded medications, radiological imaging, and laboratory and medication ordering.

The study looked at the success in meeting clinical guidelines through the use of electronic health records and computerized physician alerts. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, which impacts about 25 percent of VA patients, was a focus of the study. VA patients with diabetes had better glucose testing compliance and control, more controlled cholesterol, and more timely retinal exams compared to Medicare's private-sector benchmark. Retinal damage can be caused by diabetes. VA averaged about 15 percentage points higher than the private sector on preventive care for patients with diabetes.

The study authors are associated with the Center for Information Technology Leadership, a research organization in Charlestown, Mass., which is focused on guiding the health care community in making informed strategic IT investment decisions.

The study is available on the Internet at http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/full/29/4/629

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