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Study on Reducing Infant Mortality with Electronic Health Records Receives National Award

Amalia R. Miller, a professor of economics in the University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Sciences, and co-author Catherine E. Tucker, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Business, have been given the 2012 Garfield Economic Impact Award for their landmark study on the use of electronic medical records to reduce infant mortality.

The award, presented by Research!America, recognizes economists whose work contributes to the understanding of the ways in which medical and health research – and new, research-based technologies and treatments – impact the economy. The award is supported by a grant from Merck & Co. Inc.

The study, published in Journal of Political Economy, provides solid evidence that creating an electronic rather than a paper interface between patient information and health care providers reduces neonatal mortality. They further demonstrated that the cost of electronic medical records used for this purpose is minimal when measured against the societal benefits.

“The research that underlies increasingly sophisticated health IT, including electronic medical records, is an important facet of research for health,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America. “We applaud Drs. Miller and Tucker for demonstrating in such concrete terms the value of research-based EMRs in meeting a crucial societal goal.

“Further, by demonstrating the modest cost of the use of the technology per life saved, they have made a strong economic case for investing in the research to develop similar health care tools.”

The findings are particularly important given that the U.S. has struggled for years to reduce infant mortality rates, according to the paper. Each year, 18,000 babies die in the United States within their first 28 days of life. According to the authors, this rate of neonatal mortality means that the United States is ranked 43rd in the world and lags behind 24 of the 27 members of the European Union.

“Evaluating the cost effectiveness of medical innovation in actual practice has been challenging,” said Dr. Mark McClellan, director of the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at the Brookings Institution and a Research!America board member. “This important research uses creative methods to overcome the challenges and provide important new evidence on cost effectiveness of electronic medical records.”

Using a 12-year county-level panel, the authors found that electronic medical records reduced neonatal mortality by 16 deaths per 100,000 live births. The authors credit this decrease to the fact that fast and accurate access to patient records improves diagnosis and patient monitoring.

Miller and Tucker were honored Nov. 15 at a reception at the American Association for the Advancement of Science building in Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1989, Research!America is the nation's largest nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority.

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