-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
TUESDAY, March 6 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors are more likely to
order imaging and other diagnostic lab tests for their patients if
they have computer access to the test results, according to a new
Although this technology was intended to reduce costs and
increase efficiency, researchers from Harvard Medical School found
easy access to test results was associated with a 40 percent to 70
percent increase in imaging test orders. Computerization actually
could be driving costs up, they said in the study, published in the
March issue of
"Our findings should at a minimum raise questions about the whole idea that computerization decreases test ordering and therefore costs in the real world of outpatient practice," study author Dr. Danny McCormick, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard, said in a journal news release. "As with many other things, if you make things easier to do, people will do them more often."
The researchers examined national survey information on almost
29,000 patient visits to nearly 1,200 doctors. Radiologists,
anesthesiologists and pathologists were excluded.
The study found that doctors without computer access to test
results ordered imaging in 12.9 percent of visits. Those who did
have computer access to results ordered these tests in 18 percent
The study noted that women underwent more imaging studies than
men, perhaps because of mammograms and ultrasounds, and specialists
were more likely than primary care physicians to order these
Previous studies estimated that computerization in doctors'
offices would save more than $8 billion each year in reduced
imaging and lab testing. The researchers said these studies were
limited since most medical practices are not equipped with
cutting-edge computer systems.
The study authors also noted that even offices with the latest
equipment had high rates of testing. They concluded that curbing
patient referrals patients to a medical imaging center in which a
physician has a financial stake may be more effective in decreasing
They added that their findings "emphasize the importance of
establishing the benefits of computerization rather than estimating
them in the absence of data, or generalizing from small studies at
a few atypical institutions."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides
more information on improvements in
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