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Helping Doctors Figure Out E-Health Stimulus Programs

For all the talk in recent months about meaningful use and anticipation about the explosion expected to happen in new deployments of e-health records, apparently lots of busy doctor practices are still pretty clueless about much of this.
For all the talk in recent months about meaningful use and anticipation about the explosion expected to happen in new deployments of e-health records, apparently lots of busy doctor practices are still pretty clueless about much of this.While a new a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/healthcare/EMR/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=222300536">CDC report says that nearly 4 in 10 doctor offices report using "any" e-health records or e-medical records, some vendors close to the physician scene say most doctors--especially those in small practices-- are still a long way from using digital records in accordance to the fed's pending "meaningful use" criteria.

Most doctors haven't been following the blow-by-blow in recent months as the federal government and its various advisory committees have been hammering out the meaningful use provisions of the $20-billion plus American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. And many physicians haven't paid much attention to the fact that near-final meaningful use rules were released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Office of National Coordinator for Health IT just before New Year's.

Those doctors---tens of thousands of them who spend long days caring for patients in their one-to-four physician practices--might've heard or read something about the feds' plans to reward (and eventually penalize laggard) healthcare providers for their use (or non-use) of computerized patient records, but they haven't had the time to keep close tabs on the unfolding requirements.

"Doctors still don't really understand the basics" of what e-health records systems do, let alone the government requirements that will be phased in from 2011 to 2015 to incentivize healthcare providers to deploy these systems and use them in increasing complex and meaningful ways, said Scott Decker, president of EHR vendor NextGen.

"There's a big need for education" among doctor practices, he said. That's a big reason why NextGen decided to set up new meaningful use educational resources and a community forum to aid doctors, he said.

The resources can be helpful to any doctor practice, but especially to those that haven't begun their e-health record journey, he said.

NextGen isn't the only player providing a resource to assist doctors in navigating through the meaningful use details. A helpful chart is available from Software Advice, which offers free online help for picking out EHR software.

Decker predicts that while there'll be a big uptick in healthcare providers deploying these systems over the next several years, the pattern in adoption will be the same as always--i.e. larger practices installing the technology at a faster pace than smaller practices.

"In a one or two doctor practice, you don't have the economies of scale that larger practices have," he said. "But SaaS can help" those smaller practices, since web-based e-health records require less ongoing on-site support in offices where resources are very limited.

Once more doctor offices deploy these systems, the harder nut to crack will be the electronic sharing of patient data among healthcare providers and patients.

"We've got a client base of thousands of practices and tens of thousands of doctors, but less than 5% share this data with patients, and even fewer share the data with other physicians," he said.

Being that the electronic exchange of patient data--including providing patients with their digital records--are among the near-final meaningful use criteria doctors will have to follow to qualify for stimulus funds in coming years, that's sure to be another broad topic that physicians will need help with.