THURSDAY, Dec. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Use of electronic medical records has had only a limited effect on improving quality of care at U.S. hospitals, suggests a new study. But the problem may not be the technology but rather the methods used to assess its effectiveness.

Researchers at the nonprofit RAND Corp. looked at quality of care for three common conditions -- heart failure, heart attack and pneumonia -- at 2,021 hospitals between 2003 and 2007.

During that time, the quality of care for people with heart failure increased among hospitals with basic electronic health records, but comparable improvements were not found among those that had upgraded to more advanced electronic record systems, the study found. Higher quality of care for people with a heart attack or pneumonia was not found among hospitals with electronic records.

The study, published online Dec. 23 in the American Journal of Managed Care, adds to growing evidence suggesting that new methods need to be developed to measure the impact of health information technology on quality of care at hospitals, the researchers said.

"The lurking question has been whether we are examining the right measures to truly test the effectiveness of health information technology," lead author and information scientist Spencer S. Jones said in a RAND news release. "Our existing tools are probably not the ones we need going forward to adequately track the nation's investment in health information technology."

With the U.S. government investing large amounts of money in health information technology, it is important to have reliable methods to accurately assess the impact of this technology, Jones added.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has more about health information technology.