Journal article

Effects of eHealth on hospital practice: synthesis of the current literature

Telehealth Hospitals
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Objective The transition to digital hospitals is fast-moving. Although US hospitals are further ahead than some others in implementing eHealth technologies, their early experiences are not necessarily generalisable to contemporary healthcare because both the systems and technologies have been rapidly evolving. It is important to provide up-to-date assessments of the evidence available. The aim of this paper is to provide an assessment of the current literature on the effects to be expected from hospital implementations of eHealth technologies.

Methods A narrative review was conducted of systematic reviews investigating the effects of eHealth technologies (clinical decision support systems (CDSS), computerised provider order entry (CPOE), ePrescribing, electronic medical records (EMRs)) published between November 2015 and August 2017 and compared the findings with those of a previous narrative review that examined studies published between January 2010 and October 2015. The same search strategy and selection criteria were used in both studies.

Results Of the seven relevant articles, three (42.9%) examined the effects of more than one eHealth system: only two (28.6%) studies were high quality, three (42.9%) were of intermediate quality and two (28.6%) were of low quality. We identified that EMRs are largely associated with conflicting findings. Previous reviews suggested that CPOE are associated with significant positive results of cost savings, organisational efficiency gains, less resource utilisation and improved individual performance. However, these effects were not investigated in the more recent reviews, and only mixed findings for communication between clinicians were reported. Similarly, for ePrescribing, later reviews reported limited evidence of benefits, although when coupled with CDSS, more consistent positive findings were reported.

Conclusion This overview can help inform other hospitals in Australia and elsewhere of the likely effects resulting from eHealth technologies. The findings suggest that the effects of these systems are largely mixed, but there are positive findings, which encourage ongoing digital transformation of hospital practice.

What is known about the topic? Governments are increasingly devoting substantial resources towards implementing eHealth technologies in hospital practice with the goals of improving clinical and financial outcomes. Yet, these outcomes are yet to be fully realised in practice and conflicting findings are often reported in the literature.

What does this paper add? 

This paper extends a previous narrative review of systematic reviews and categorises the effects of eHealth technologies into a typology of outcomes to enable overall findings to be reported and comparisons to be made. In doings so, we synthesise 7 years of eHealth effects. Mixed results are largely reported for EMRs, with many benefits being compromised by practices stemming from resistance to EMRs. Limited evidence of effectiveness exists for CPOE and ePrescribing. CDSS are associated with the most consistent positive findings for clinician- and hospital-level effects. We observed renewed interest in the literature for the effect of eHealth technologies on communication both between clinicians and with patients. Other new insights have emerged relating to effects on clinical judgement, changing practice and staff retention.

What are the implications for practitioners? 

eHealth technologies have the potential to positively affect clinical and financial outcomes. However, these benefits are not guaranteed, and mixed results are often reported. This highlights the need for hospitals and decision makers to clearly identify and act on the drivers of successful implementations if eHealth technologies are to facilitate the creation of new, more effective models of patient care in an increasingly complex healthcare environment.

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