The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 that was signed into law as part of the "stimulus package" represents the largest US initiative to date that is designed to encourage widespread use of electronic health records (EHRs). In light of the changes anticipated from this policy initiative, the purpose of this paper is to review and summarize the literature on the benefits and drawbacks of EHR systems. Much of the literature has focused on key EHR functionalities, including clinical decision support systems, computerized order entry systems, and health information exchange. Our paper describes the potential benefits of EHRs that include clinical outcomes (eg, improved quality, reduced medical errors), organizational outcomes (eg, financial and operational benefits), and societal outcomes (eg, improved ability to conduct research, improved population health, reduced costs). Despite these benefits, studies in the literature highlight drawbacks associated with EHRs, which include the high upfront acquisition costs, ongoing maintenance costs, and disruptions to workflows that contribute to temporary losses in productivity that are the result of learning a new system. Moreover, EHRs are associated with potential perceived privacy concerns among patients, which are further addressed legislatively in the HITECH Act. Overall, experts and policymakers believe that significant benefits to patients and society can be realized when EHRs are widely adopted and used in a "meaningful" way.
Keywords: EHR; HITECH; computerized order entry; health information exchange; health information technology.