Unfortunately, it’s well documented that people often have worse outcomes when they’re treated in hospitals over the weekend. For example, one recent study from the Association of Academic Physiatrists found that older adults admitted with head trauma over the weekend have a 14 percent increased risk of dying versus those admitted on a weekday.
But if a hospital makes good use of its EMR, these grim stats can be improved, according to a new study published in JAMA Surgery. In the study, researchers found that use of EMRs can significantly improve outcomes for hospital patients who have surgeries over the weekend.
To conduct the study, which was done by Loyola Medicine, a group of researchers identified some EMR characteristics which they felt could overcome the “weekend effect.” The factors they chose included using electronic systems designed to schedule surgeries seamlessly as well as move patients in and out of hospital rooms efficiently.
Their theories were based on existing research suggesting that patients at hospitals with electronic operating room scheduling were 33 percent less likely to experience a weekend effect than hospitals using paper-based scheduling. In addition, studies concluded patients at hospitals with electronic bed-management systems were 35 percent less likely to experience the weekend effect.
To learn more about the weekend effect, researchers analyzed the records provided by the AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Inpatient Database. Researchers looked at treatment and outcomes for 2,979 patients admitted to Florida hospitals for appendectomies, acute hernia repairs and gallbladder removals.
The research team found that 32 percent (946) of patients experienced the weekend effect, which they defined as having longer hospital stays than expected. Meanwhile, it concluded that patients at hospitals with high-speed EMR connectivity, EMR in the operating room, electronic operating room scheduling, CPOE systems and electronic bed management did better. (The analysis was conducted with the help of Loyola’s predictive analytics program.)
Their research follows on a 2015 Loyola study, published in Annals of Surgery, which named five factors that reduced the impact of the weekend effect. These included full adoption of electronic medical records, home health programs, pain management programs, increased registered nurse-to-bed ratios and inpatient physical rehabilitation.
Generally speaking, the study results offer good news, as they fulfill some the key hopes hospitals had when installing their EMR in the first place. But I was left wondering whether the study conflated cause and effect. Specifically, I found myself wondering whether hospitals with these various systems boosted their outcomes with technology, or whether hospitals that invested in these technologies could afford to provide better overall care.
It’s also worth noting that several of the improvement factors cited in the 2015 study did not involve technology at all. Even if a hospital has excellent IT systems in place, putting home health, pain management and physical rehabilitation in place – not to mention higher nurse-to-patient ratios – calls for different thinking and a different source of funding.
Still, it’s always good to know that health IT can generate beneficial results, especially high-ticket items like EMRs. Even incremental progress is still progress.