Health care providers remain uncertain about how they will fare financially if they adopt electronic health record (EHR) systems. We used survey data from forty-nine community practices in a large EHR pilot, the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative, to project five-year returns on investment. We found that the average physician would lose $43,743 over five years; just 27 percent of practices would have achieved a positive return on investment; and only an additional 14 percent of practices would have come out ahead had they received the $44,000 federal meaningful-use incentive. The largest difference between practices with a positive return on investment and those with a negative return was the extent to which they used their EHRs to increase revenue, primarily by seeing more patients per day or by improved billing that resulted in fewer rejected claims and more accurate coding. Almost half of the practices did not realize savings in paper medical records because they continued to keep records on paper. We conclude that current meaningful use incentives alone may not ensure that most practices, particularly smaller ones, achieve a positive return on investment from EHR adoption. Policies that provide additional support, such as expanding the regional extension center program, could help ensure that practices make the changes required to realize a positive return on investment from EHRs.
Adler-Milstein, Julia; Green, Carol E.; Bates, David W., Health Affairs, 32(3), 562-570, DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.2012.0306