Starting in 2011, the U.S. government will begin spending an estimated $20 billion rewarding doctors and hospitals for their "meaningful use" of e-health record systems. But first, doctors and hospitals have to lay out the money to deploy those systems.
GE this week announced an interest-free loan program to help healthcare providers handle the up-front investment.
GE's new "Stimulus Simplicity" program -- a joint offering between GE Capital and GE Healthcare -- includes two "core" elements. Besides the interest-free loans with deferred payments, GE also has promised that its GE Centricity e-medical record products will be certified to meet evolving health IT standards.
The catch for the interest-free loans is that the financing is available for purchases of GE's line of Centricity products and services. Besides EMR systems, the Centricity line includes Centricity Enterprise, which is an offering of integrated clinical, administrative, and financial applications, including computerized physician order-entry systems.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) legislation, over the next five years starting in 2011, hospitals and doctors' offices that show "meaningful use" of "qualified" health IT such as e-medical records will be eligible to receive financial rewards in the form of higher Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. Laggards who don't use e-medical record systems in "meaningful" ways will be penalized with lower reimbursements starting in 2015.
"It's great that the government is funding to stimulate the adoption of e-medical records, but the cash doesn't start flowing till 2011 or 2012," depending when hospitals and doctors have deployed their systems, said Vishal Wanchoo, president and CEO of GE Healthcare IT, in an interview with InformationWeek. Since the stimulus funding doesn't address the initial IT investments most healthcare providers need to make in the meantime, the GE financing helps, he said.
"The economy has put a strain on many organizations, this [loan program] takes that off," he said. "They start paying us back when they start getting reimbursed" from the federal programs.
Meanwhile, the Stimulus Simplicity warranty that GE's Centricity products will meet evolving federal requirements for certification should come pretty easy for GE.