Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Electronic health records may improve preventive care

- Kenny Lin, MD

In an editorial in the May 15th issue of AFP, I summarized the mixed evidence that using electronic health records with clinical decision support systems (CDSSs) improves processes and outcomes of preventive care. Most of the literature supporting a positive effect of EHRs with CDSSs is either anecdotal, observational, or limited to specific settings (namely, practices of employed physicians in large, integrated health systems). I concluded that it remained uncertain if these results could be duplicated in randomized trials in typical private practices.

Uncertain, that is, until this week, following a study by Alex Krist and colleagues, "Interactive Preventive Health Record to Enhance Delivery of Recommended Care: A Randomized Trial," in the Annals of Family Medicine. The authors randomized 4500 patients from 8 primary care practices in Virginia to usual care versus an invitation to use MyPreventiveCare, an interactive personal health record (IPHR) that generates a list of screening and counseling recommendations based on guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, as well as links to more detailed explanations of these preventive services and relevant decision aids. When patients used the IPHR, their physicians also received a summary of the recommendations in their EHRs.

Although only about 1 in 6 invited patients had actually used the personal health record 16 months later, it was enough to show a statistically significant difference between the proportion of patients in that group who were up-to-date on all recommended services, compared to the control group. After 4 months, colorectal, breast, and cervical cancer screening rates had increased by an impressive 13 to 19 percent among personal health record users. The authors concluded: "Information systems that feature patient-centered functionality, such as the IPHR, have potential to increase preventive service delivery. Engaging more patients to use systems could have important public health benefits." A how-to guide on the use of personal health records to promote preventive services is available on the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website.