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8/11/2009
03:26 PM
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Social Security To Put $24 Million Into EMRs

The Social Security Administration plans to make wider use of electronic medical records to process disability applications.

The Social Security Administration is planning to award $24 million in contracts to implement electronic medical records that would improve its disability program's application process.

Under the agency's new Medical Evidence Gathering and Analysis Through Health IT program, Social Security will electronically receive clinical information from healthcare providers treating patients who are seeking disability benefits. Currently, the bulk of the information the agency receives about applicants' medical conditions is provided manually, using paper-based medical records and other documents.

Social Security has been testing the use of EMRs in the application process for about a year. In pilot programs with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and MedVirginia, a health information exchange in Virginia, the agency says it has significantly reduced processing time for those applications.

Now, Social Security is looking to expand that program. It wants to electronically collect disability applicants' clinical information--with patients' authorization--and apply a business rules engine to help it make benefits determinations, said Social Security officials at a webinar on Tuesday about the program.

During the current recession, the Social Security Administration says it has seen a significant increase in disability applications. Officials said they expect to receive more than 3.3 million applications in fiscal year 2010, a 27% increase over fiscal 2008. To process these applications, the agency sends more than 15 million requests for medical records to health care providers. EMRs will "vastly improve the efficiency of this process," the agency said in a statement.

Under the new program, medical record data will be securely transmitted through the National Health Information Network, an initiative of the Dept. of Health and Human Services.

The new contracts are among health IT programs being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. More details are available on the Social Security Administration's Web site about its request for proposal, in which it's seeking healthcare providers, provider networks, and health information exchanges to participate in the program.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on e-health and the federal stimulus package. Download the report here (registration required).

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