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With more than 300 electronic health record systems on the market, picking one that will meet a medical practice's specific needs is tough, especially for small groups that don't have full-time IT professionals to wade through the requirements and translate the vendor-speak. With deadlines fast approaching to qualify for a piece of the $27 billion in federal stimulus funds set aside to encourage EHR adoption, and with vendors lining up at the door ready with a hard sell, it's time for practices to get started.
To find out just how challenging picking an EHR is for small and midsize physician practices, InformationWeek Analytics sent out a request for information to more than 20 vendors for a fictional midsize practice--Wellness First Health Associates. We've compiled and analyzed information from the seven vendors that responded into a guide to selecting EHRs that provides insight into their products. We've also developed guidance to help healthcare professionals in small to midsize practices--solo practitioners to groups with as many as 50 doctors--assess their needs and determine what questions to ask vendors.
Now's The Time
Medical practices are eligible for as much as $63,750 per physician in federal incentive funds over six years if they qualify under the Medicaid program and $44,000 per physician over five years under the Medicare program. To qualify in 2011, practices must be using a qualified EHR system for at least 90 consecutive days this year--so it must be in place by Oct. 2.
Electronic health records make patients' files easily accessible and include up-to-the minute information on the latest office visit, test results, and medications. Doctors and staff don't have to waste time hunting down a patient's most recent blood work--it's right there. Files can be easily shared with practitioners across town and across the country. Pharmacists don't need to call to decode illegible scripts. And patients can get the results of their latest scans online rather than wait on interminable hold.
EHR systems provide a long-term view of a patient's health history compiled from various practitioners providing care. Information typically found in them includes doctors' notes on a patient's progress; logs of vital signs; problem, medication, and immunization lists; the patient's health history; and lab, radiology, and other test results. These systems often are integrated with billing and practice management software for an integrated workflow. They frequently incorporate a personal health record that lets patients add information and communicate with their doctors. They usually provide e-prescribing capabilities, and they sometimes tie into a health information exchange for sharing data with doctors outside the practice.
Medical practices and other healthcare organizations are implementing EHR systems not just to get federal stimulus money, but also because they want to improve the quality of care they provide, facilitate information management, and optimize revenue. But so far, progress has been slow.
Last year, fewer than a quarter of office-based physicians in the U.S. were using electronic health records with basic functionality and only about 10% were using fully functional systems, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. The federal government is trying to increase those percentages with the "meaningful use" incentive payments.
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