The federal government is currently offering bonus payments through Medicare and Medicaid to hospitals, physicians, and other eligible health professionals who meet new standards for “meaningful use” of health information technology. Whether these incentives will improve care, reduce errors, and improve patient safety as intended remains uncertain.

In a Health Affairs Web First study published September 14, RAND Corporation researchers seek to partially fill this knowledge gap by evaluating the relationship between the use of electronic medication order entry and hospital mortality. Their results suggest that the initial meaningful-use threshold for hospitals — which requires using electronic orders for at least 30 percent of eligible patients — is probably too low to have a significant impact on deaths from heart failure and heart attack among hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries. However, the proposed threshold for the next stage of the program — using the orders for at least 60 percent of patients, a rate some stakeholders have said is too high — is more consistently associated with lower mortality. 

Lead author Spencer Jones and his colleagues conclude: “Our study may reassure policy makers and other stakeholders that high levels of use of computerized provider order entry and other health information technology have value and may yield tangible health benefits for patients.”

Tags: Health IT, Quality