Medicare to aid e-records switch

Medicare will pay for its quality improvement contractors to help physicians nationwide adopt and use electronic health records and other information technology beginning in August.

Under Medicare’s $286.7 million per year quality program, quality improvement organizations (QIOs) have worked since the mid-1990s to increase the quality of care and the effectiveness of the health care system. The move to support adoption of health care IT began in 2002 with a pilot program in four states.

The three-year-old program announced in May calls for the QIOs to assist small and medium-sized doctors’ offices with the transition to e-records. The free assistance is not intended to supplant the technical support provided by IT systems vendors, according to officials at the American Health Quality Association, a Washington, D.C.-based association of QIOs.

The QIO assistance will include advice on selecting systems, reorganizing operations to make the best use of the systems and using the newly available data to increase the quality of care. Management of chronic conditions, preventive care and operational efficiency will be among the emphases.

The QIOs will assist between 5 percent and 10 percent of primary care physicians’ offices in each state. A report prepared for the health quality association suggests that QIOs also can provide technical assistance for a fee, beyond the Medicare contract work.

Association officials also said QIOs will work with other health care institutions including hospitals, home health agencies and Medicare drug benefit plans and providers to support computerized physician order entry, bar coding and telehealth technologies.

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