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E-Health Record Loans Help Smaller Practices

UnitedHealth Group will provide doctors who implement its SaaS-based Ingenix CareTracker system with interest-free loans and a meaningful use guarantee.

UnitedHealth Group is the latest vendor to offer interest-free financing and meaningful use guarantees to doctors who deploy its e-health record system.

The financing and guarantees are being offered to physicians who implement CareTracker, a SaaS-based e-health record and practice management system sold by UnitedHealth's Ingenix health IT services and consulting subsidiary.

About 5,000 doctors already use CareTracker, predominately in the northeast, said Steven Tolle, senior VP for Ingenix physician solutions.

The loans and SaaS-based model help overcome issues that typically keep physicians from launching EHR systems, Tolle said. Physicians groups--especially smaller practices of one to three doctors--often lack funds to buy systems and don't have access to technical support to maintain them, he said.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes a provision to reimburse doctors' practices up to $44,000 for the meaningful use of EHR systems, but physicians still need a way to pay to get these systems up and running. Interest free financing helps, and SaaS removes the headache of technical support, Tolle said.

CareTracker costs $5,000 to deploy, plus a monthly subscription fee of $590 for the integrated EHR and practice management software. If doctors already have a practice management system, they can subscribe to the CareTracker EHR software for $390 a month.

Repayment isn't due until doctors begin receiving stimulus reimbursements from the federal government beginning next year. And if a practice has difficulty meeting the government's meaningful use criteria, it can delay repayment.

"When the doctors get paid by the feds, that's when payment is due," Tolle said. "With our meaningful use guarantee, physicians don't repay till meaningful use is achieved," he said.

The CareTracker loans are available through OptumHealth, UnitedHealth's financial services unit.

UnitedHealth hopes to see as many U.S. physicians' practices--especially primary-care ones--as possible using e-health record systems to improve care and efficiencies, said Tolle.

There are 216,000 doctors working in practices of one to three doctors, Tolle said. "The best estimates I've seen are that 9% to 12% of these doctors have an EHR. From a healthcare reform perspective, 75% of us get care from these doctors," he said. Getting half of these doctors using EHRs in meaningful ways over the next few years would be "significant growth," he said.

UnitedHealth is the latest of several companies, including GE, in recent months to introduce loan programs and meaningful use guarantees for the purchase of EHR systems to bolster adoption rates.

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