Wider use of EMRs could reduce US infant deaths

May 27, 2011

More widespread use of electronic medical records (EMRs) could lead to a substantial reduction in infant mortality rates in the United States, according to researchers from the University of Virginia and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

More widespread use of electronic medical records (EMRs) could lead to a substantial reduction in infant mortality rates in the United States, according to researchers from the University of Virginia and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Their findings indicate that a 10% increase in births occurring in hospitals with EMRs would save 16 babies for every 100,000 live births, and a complete national transition to EMRs could save an estimated 6,400 US infants each year.

Using data from birth and death records for all US counties and national data on adoption of EMRs by US hospitals, the researchers compared infant death rates at hospitals with and without EMRs in more than 2,500 counties over 12 years. Because of the extensive data set, the researchers were able to control for a county's socioeconomic status and other factors that might influence infant mortality.

The data showed a significant negative association between increased adoption of EMRs and neonatal deaths. The lower death rate was driven by a reduction in deaths from conditions requiring careful monitoring.

Use of EMRs also was cost effective. The estimated cost of saving 1 baby through use of EMRs would be about $531,000. By comparison, a large expansion in Medicaid coverage for children in the 1980s cost about $840,000 per life saved.

The researchers point out that the United States lags behind other industrial nations in adoption of EMRs and has one of the highest infant mortality rates among developed nations despite large expenditures on health care. Their findings, they say, suggest "cautious optimism" about the potential value of EMRs in improving neonatal health outcomes and provide support for current health policy directed toward increasing use of health information technologies.

Miller AR, Tucker CE. Can health care information technology save babies? J Political Economy. 2011;119(2):289-324.