By: CRISSA SHOEMAKER DeBREE
August 22, 2010
Stimulus legislation put aside $20 billion to encourage doctors to adopt electronic medical records. Several local companies stand to benefit.
Patients will begin seeing more electronic records at their doctors’ offices and hospitals over the next few years, as health care providers rush to implement systems under a deadline imposed by economic stimulus legislation.
The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH, Act includes about $20 billion to help doctors and hospitals offset the costs of the systems, which require software and hardware designed to capture and share patient information with other doctors and the patients themselves. And several local companies are competing for a piece of that monetary pie.
“It’s truly a gold rush right now,” said Doug Wallace. “And it’s on the clock.”
Wallace is executive vice president of business development solutions for MyEMRChoice.com, a Doylestown company that helps doctors research and choose record systems. Wallace and a partner started the business three years ago, long before health care reform was on the radar. Over the next year, they expect to hire six more employees.
Doctors can receive up to $44,000 if they implement electronic medical records by 2014. Starting in 2015, those who don’t implement an EMR system stand to lose a percentage of their Medicare reimbursements. Hospitals stand to receive an average of $5 million.
The HITECH Act also includes millions of dollars to create regional extension centers to educate doctors and hospitals about electronic records and for studies on how the use of electronic data impacts patient treatment and care.
Proponents of electronic health records say they will cut down on costly inefficiencies in the health care system and encourage more communication. But doctors have balked at the costly – and sometimes confusing – systems, while patients have expressed privacy concerns about having medical information available online or on portable computer drives.
But security has become a priority, Wallace said. And the adoption of electronic medical records is inevitable.
“The scales will tip,” Wallace said. “EMR is coming.”
Adoption of electronic health records has lagged, however, as doctors waited for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to detail “meaningful use” criteria that spell out exactly what features are needed for a system to qualify under the act.
Those rules were approved only recently.
“The growth process has been somewhat more modest than what has been projected by the federal government, largely because there’s a lot of confusion and lack of information out there,” said Charles Jarvis, vice president of health care services and government relations for NextGen Healthcare Information Systems of Horsham. “The regulations have been somewhat slow. Many doctors and community health centers and some hospitals were saying, ‘We’re just going to wait until the regulations are done.’ ”
NextGen, a division of Quality Systems Inc. of California, expects its system to meet the meaningful use criteria, Jarvis said.
Doctors also have been hesitant to adopt the systems because of their cost, Jarvis said. NextGen has made financing packages available to help defray that, he said.
“But there has been a growth process, and we at NextGen have done our part to stimulate that,” he said. “The growth is going to be steady. It’s going to take several more years than originally suggested. You’re going to see this process happen over a four- to six-year period of time.”
Wallace, whose firm works mainly with small medical practices, agreed that adoption could take some time.
“It’s going to take a while,” Wallace said. “You can’t jam this down people’s throats.”
Crissa Shoemaker DeBree can be reached at 215-345-3186 or cshoemaker@phillyBurbs.com