Framework will help decision-makers understand economic value of digital health systems

11 July 2024

A framework to evaluate the economic value of electronic medical record systems in hospitals has been developed by University of Queensland researchers.

A collaboration led by Faculty of Medicine and Queensland Digital Health Centre researchers, the e-Health Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) framework aims to provide health decision-makers with insights into the benefits and costs of digital health investments.

The study, published in BMC Health Services Research, outlines the development and application of a eHealth-CBA framework. It assesses the economic impacts of EMR implementations across several dimensions, including patient care, operational efficiency, and workforce wellbeing.

Lead author, Senior Lecturer in the School of Public Health Dr Kim-Huong Nguyen,  said: "This framework is a crucial step in understanding the economic value of digital health investments and will provide decision-makers with a robust tool to assess the long-term impacts of EMR implementation on healthcare delivery."

Senior author, QDHeC Director Professor Clair Sullivan, said the framework could  become a valuable tool to evaluate digital health investments.

“This will ensure that scarce resources are allocated to initiatives that provide the highest returns in terms of patient care and operational efficiency, so advancing the Quadruple Aim of Healthcare," she said.

The development of the eHealth-CBA framework began with an extensive literature review, where the research team analysed over two decades of studies on EMR implementation. This review highlighted varying methodologies and diverse outcomes associated with digital health investments, laying the foundation for a more unified and comprehensive evaluation framework.

The team consulted widely with diverse stakeholders, including patients, healthcare staff, administrators, and policymakers. This collaborative approach ensured the framework was not only theoretically sound but also for real-world applications.

Dr Nguyen said the application of the eHealth-CBA framework showed the significant benefits of EMR implementation, including improved patient experience.

“Patients reported feeling more secure and well-informed, knowing that their medical information was readily accessible to their healthcare providers,” she said.

Another important benefit resulting from EMR implementation, quantified by the framework, was the reduction in adverse events both during hospital stays and post-discharge. The enhanced access to comprehensive patient information provided by EMRs helps healthcare providers identify and address potential issues more effectively, resulting in fewer complications and readmissions.

The framework also highlighted the benefits of shorter hospital stays, facilitated by EMR-enabled virtual care.

Other benefits identified included:

  • Time and cost savings. The increased use of virtual care reduced the need for patients to travel long distances for medical consultations, saving both time and money.
  • Improved workforce productivity. The EMR system enhanced staff coordination and reduced the time spent on unproductive activities, such as searching for patient records.