(CBS) Can switching from paper to electronic health records bring better health for patients? One thing's for sure: the switch will be good for the health of the planet - at least if you believe the results of a new study by California-based health-care giant Kaiser Permanente.
The study showed that electronic health records - EHRs in industry jargon - could lower carbon dioxide emissions by up to 1.7 million across the U.S. That's the equivalent of taking 300,000 cars of U.S. roads, the New York Times reported.
In addition, EHRs would save countless trees by eliminating the use of 1,044 tons of paper for medical charts. And additional environmental benefits would result from filling prescriptions online (less travel to and from doctors' offices and drugstores) and from digitizing X-rays and other scans (reducing the use of toxic chemicals like silver nitrate and hydroquinone).
Those benefits would outweigh the negative impact of the increased energy use required to run all those computers, according to a written statement released by Kaiser.
"Prior to this study, the benefits of electronic health records were categorized primarily by their impact on the quality of care and potential to improve efficiency," Kaiser Permanente's Terhilda Garrido, a co-author of the study, said in a written statement. "As the country increases its 'meaningful use' of HIT, we should consider other macro impacts as well."
The study was published in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs.