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How Do You Get Small Medical Practices Online?

A major insurer and a large hospital system have joined forces with Accenture and Allscripts to convince the "little guy" to finally get on the e-highway.
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Highmark, the largest health insurer in western Pennsylvania, is partnering with West Penn Allegheny Health System, consulting firm Accenture, and Allscripts, a leading EHR vendor, to try to induce more small practices to embrace electronic health records.

Several years ago, Highmark launched a $29 million grant program to help physicians computerize their practices. As of August 2010, it had provided 3,140 physicians with more than $19.6 million "to assist with health information technology, including electronic prescribing," according to a press release. While Highmark was unwilling to provide details about its involvement in newest program, which will begin in September, it's possible that the health plan will provide financial incentives to its network physicians for acquiring EHRs.

"Highmark has been very proactive because of the benefits they perceive" from getting doctors to adopt health IT, noted Lee Shapiro, president of Allscripts.

Western Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS), meanwhile, recently struck an agreement with Allscripts under which it agreed to offer the upgraded, Meaningful Use-ready version of Allscripts' remotely hosted My Way EHR to its1,200 affiliated physicians. WPAHS' 600 employed physicians already use the Allscripts Enterprise EHR. "Based on the pricing that WPAHS has established, we think it will be very affordable opportunity for physicians to participate and acquire EHRs," Shapiro told InformationWeek Healthcare.

"Based on the pricing that WPAHS has established, we think it will be very affordable opportunity for physicians to participate and acquire EHRs," Shapiro told InformationWeek Healthcare.

Shapiro would not speculate on how Highmark will participate in the EHR promotion campaign. But he said the Blues plan is not involved only because it recently agreed to purchase WPAHS, which is ailing financially. "Our perspective is that they're using this program to reach out to their providers to promote clinical excellence," he said. "Their involvement will be as Highmark, not as the owner of WPAHS."

Shapiro hinted that Highmark is planning to provide direct rewards to physicians who purchase EHRs. When asked whether the initiative had much chance of overcoming small-practice doctors' resistance to the technology, he responded, "This is the time for physicians to decide whether they want to adopt an EHR and change how they practice medicine. But incentives from a large commercial insurer, plus incentives from the government, plus encouragement from the hospital, plus education on best practices--all those things help create a momentum that will attract more users."

Another facet of the program that might appeal to physicians is help from Accenture, which is working with the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT on health information exchange projects. "Accenture plans to assist practices in the use and adoption of electronic health record solutions to help enhance the physician experience and improve patient outcomes," said the Highmark press release.

"With this collaboration, we aim to create an opportunity for independent physicians to acquire the same advanced electronic health records and practice management tools that are currently made available by large health systems," said Deborah L. Rice, Highmark's executive vice president of health services, in the release. "Helping these medical providers leverage advanced administrative technology will enable us to promote best practices and clinical excellence across our network and will ultimately improve the overall quality of the health care services that our members receive."

Allscripts is looking at collaborations with other payers, as well, Shapiro said. "The health plans want to change physician behavior, and they realize that the EHR is an important connection to help deliver information when care decisions are being made."

The health insurance industry has been increasingly engaging with and, in some cases, acquiring providers as it helps healthcare organizations ramp up accountable care organizations. For example, Optum, a unit of UnitedHealth Group, recently announced it would help the Tucson Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz., build an ACO.

But so far, most payers have shied away from providing physicians with direct incentives to acquire health IT--even though it could benefit the insurers financially down the line. Perhaps the Highmark initiative will mark the beginning of a change in that perspective.

Find out how health IT leaders are dealing with the industry's pain points, from allowing unfettered patient data access to sharing electronic records. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: There needs to be better e-communication between technologists and clinicians. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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