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2/13/2009
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Stimulus Package Could Make E-Medical Records A Reality

As much as $21 billion in the Senate version of the bill would go to health care IT.

In 2004, President George W. Bush set the goal of establishing e-health records for most Americans within a decade. Five years later, funding included in the economic stimulus package--as much as $21 billion in the Senate version of the bill--could make it happen.

Hitting the 2014 goal has been looking like a long shot, with the percentage of U.S. doctor offices adopting electronic records systems rising slowly and estimated to be in the single digits.

The biggest hurdle has been providing funds to help health care providers buy and implement these IT systems, which are expensive and difficult to deploy.

The money would make a "huge difference," says Erica Drazen, managing partner of emerging practices with CSC's Global Healthcare Sector. The Senate bill provides about $3 billion in grants, loans, and other programs to help health care providers buy IT systems. The bulk of the funding--about $18 billion--would give health care providers who use technology to improve patient care additional Medicare and Medicaid payments.

In the first year of incentives, hospitals could receive up to $1.5 million, while doctors would qualify for about $40,000 over several years, says Drazen. "That's a lot for small doctor offices," she says.

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The funds will bring about the action that's needed, says Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who spearheaded provisions in the bill related to funding resource centers to assist doctors in implementing e-medical records. "Talk is cheap," Whitehouse says. "You need to put your money where your mouth is."

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