Background: Adoption rates for electronic health records (EHRs) have been slow, despite growing enthusiasm. Cost is a frequently cited obstacle to implementing an EHR. The body of literature citing a positive return on investment is largely anecdotal and infrequently published in peer-reviewed journals.
Study design: Five ambulatory offices, with a total of 28 providers, within the University of Rochester Medical Center, participated in a pilot project using an EHR to document the return on investment. A staged implementation of the Touchworks EHR (Allscripts) was undertaken from November 2003 to March 2004. Measurements of key financial indicators were made in the third calendar quarters of 2003 and 2005. These indicators included chart pulls, new chart creation, filing time, support staff salary, and transcription costs. In addition, patient cycle time, evaluation and management codes billed, and days in accounts receivable were evaluated to assess impact on office efficiency and billing. The savings realized were compared with the costs of the first 2 years of EHR use to determine return on investment.
Results: Total annual savings were $393,662 ($14,055 per provider). Total capital cost was $484,577. First-year operating expenses were $24,539. Total expenses for the first year were $509,539 ($18,182 per provider). Ongoing annual cost for subsequent years is $114,016 ($4,072 per provider). So, initial costs were recaptured within 16 months, with ongoing annual savings of $9,983 per provider.
Conclusions: An EHR can rapidly demonstrate a positive return on investment when implemented in ambulatory offices associated with a university medical center, with a neutral impact on efficiency and billing.