Background: Available studies have shown few quality-related advantages of electronic health records (EHRs) over traditional paper records. We compared achievement of and improvement in quality standards for diabetes at practices using EHRs with those at practices using paper records. All practices, including many safety-net primary care practices, belonged to a regional quality collaborative and publicly reported performance.
Methods: We used generalized estimating equations to calculate the percentage-point difference between EHR-based and paper-based practices with respect to achievement of composite standards for diabetes care (including four component standards) and outcomes (five standards), after adjusting for covariates and accounting for clustering. In addition to insurance type (Medicare, commercial, Medicaid, or uninsured), patient-level covariates included race or ethnic group (white, black, Hispanic, or other), age, sex, estimated household income, and level of education. Analyses were conducted separately for the overall sample and for safety-net practices.
Results: From July 2009 through June 2010, data were reported for 27,207 adults with diabetes seen at 46 practices; safety-net practices accounted for 38% of patients. After adjustment for covariates, achievement of composite standards for diabetes care was 35.1 percentage points higher at EHR sites than at paper-based sites (P<0.001), and achievement of composite standards for outcomes was 15.2 percentage points higher (P=0.005). EHR sites were associated with higher achievement on eight of nine component standards. Such sites were also associated with greater improvement in care (a difference of 10.2 percentage points in annual improvement, P<0.001) and outcomes (a difference of 4.1 percentage points in annual improvement, P=0.02). Across all insurance types, EHR sites were associated with significantly higher achievement of care and outcome standards and greater improvement in diabetes care. Results confined to safety-net practices were similar.
Conclusions: These findings support the premise that federal policies encouraging the meaningful use of EHRs may improve the quality of care across insurance types.