Some doctors to get health IT help

Small practices face special barriers, says National Coordinator for Health IT

The Obama administration will help doctors in small practices take advantage of federal incentives for adopting health information technology, according to the National Coordinator for Health IT.

Dr. David Blumenthal, the national heath IT coordinator at the Health and Human Services Department, has told the House Small Business Committee’s Regulations and Healthcare Subcommittee that the economic stimulus law will provide the doctors with financial and technical assistance to adopt health IT.

“Many physicians in small practices want to adopt health IT, but do not have the ability to invest upward of $40,000 in the technology systems,” Blumenthal told the subcommittee June 24. “We will help reduce this burden. Physicians, including those in solo or small practices, can receive up to $44,000 under Medicare in incentive payments for being meaningful users of certified electronic health records (EHRs).”

The incentive payments under Medicare and Medicaid will start in 2011. However, doctors' offices and hospitals that refuse to adopt electronic records systems will have reduced Medicare and Medicaid payments starting in 2015.

The economic stimulus law also includes grant programs, education and technical assistance to help small business physicians, he said.

Small practices, with five or fewer physicians working in a single office, face special barriers and will require significant assistance to use health IT effectively, Blumenthal said. About 21 percent of doctors have adopted some form of electronic record-keeping, while only 13 percent of doctors in small practices have done so, he said.

“This discrepancy in the rate of adoption for the nation and for small practices highlights the need for focused technical assistance for small health care practices,” Blumenthal said. “Past experiences have shown that without robust technical assistance, many EHRs that are purchased are never installed, or the providers never obtain meaningful use of the systems.”

Doctors must accomplish a variety of tasks in purchasing EHR systems, including assessing needs, selecting a vendor or reseller, and implementing workflow changes to improve clinical performance and outcomes, he said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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