High-tech hospitals better at keeping patients alive?

American Hospital Association study finds correlation between IT and patient care. But money could be the main factor.

Alorie Gilbert Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Alorie Gilbert
writes about software, spy chips and the high-tech workplace.
Alorie Gilbert
2 min read
Computer-savvy hospitals have lower patient mortality rates than other hospitals, according to a new study conducted by the American Hospital Association.

The study, released Tuesday, appears in the July issue of Hospitals & Health Networks, the journal of the American Hospital Association (AHA). Computer services company Accenture, software maker IDX Systems and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives sponsored the study.

The study found that the nation's 100 most "wired" hospitals have, on average, risk-adjusted mortality rates that are 7.2 percent lower than those of other hospitals. To make the wired list, hospitals have to attest to being computer-savvy in a wide array of areas, including electronic health records, electronic scheduling and patient identification, computerized physician order-entry systems, and Web sites where patients can check test results and find support groups.

The study is based on 502 survey responses representing 1,255 hospitals and on mortality data gathered by Solucient, an aggregator of health care data. The results were controlled for the size of the hospital and teaching status.

While the study shows a correlation, lower mortality rates are not necessarily a direct consequence of using computers to administer patient care, Alden Solovy, executive editor of Hospitals & Health Networks said. It's possible, for instance, that resource-rich hospitals able to afford the latest computers are also able to employ the best doctors, staff and medical equipment, he said. And the latter factors may have more impact on patient care.

In fact, a separate study published in Archives of Internal Medicine earlier this year, showed that information technology did not prevent major medical screw-ups at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City, one of the most high-tech hospitals in the country. The hospital's computers were supposed to protect against dangerous drug interactions, illegible prescriptions and bedside mix-ups, yet nine of the 937 patients in the study died as a result of medication problems, Wired News reported in May. Many of the mishaps were preventable, the report noted.

Still, Solovy believes computers are also part of the better-patient-care equation.

"It?s not the only factor, but in the context of having a culture of safety and process improvement, clinical information technology plays an important contributing role in improving quality of care," he said.

Hospital & Health Networks does not rank the hospitals in its 100 wired list but does name the hospital systems that have made the list all seven years it's conducted the survey. They are Avera Health in Sioux Falls, S.D.; Berkshire Health System in Pittsfield, Mass.; Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J.; MeritCare Health System in Fargo, N.D.; Partners HealthCare in Boston; Rockford Health System, in Rockford, Ill.; Sharp HealthCare in San Diego; University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh; and Valley Health System in Ridgewood, N.J.