A recent New York Times article lamenting the woeful healthcare savings realized from “digital health records” put forward that “evidence of significant savings is scant, and there is increasing concern that electronic records have actually added to costs by making it easier to bill more for some services.” I take a differing view. Instead of “making it easier to bill more for some services,” digital health systems improve the overall process, allowing the hospital to bill more services period.
The thing about computers is that they tend to keep accurate track of processes and data. Tracking financial processes and data is at the very heart of their usefulness. So it should come as no surprise that hospitals implementing large scale EMR solutions would see a significant uptick in processed billing. Whereas before patient charges were tied to an unreliable paper driven system of check boxes and barcode stickers carried out by very busy caregivers, now the computer tracks all things clinical and financial simultaneously thus decreasing errors and increasing dollars. However, this “unintended” efficiency seems to be causing no end of consternation, even to the point of decrying “available systems seem to be aimed more at increasing billing by providers than at improving care or saving money.” As Robert Orben observed “To err is human – and to blame it on a computer is even more so.”