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Electronic Health Records: Time to Get Onboard

Medical Specialties Are Key To Global Goals

Most of the nation's largest hospitals have already deployed electronic health record systems, but less than 20% of the 700,000 practicing doctors are using them. There's a lot at stake if these doctors don't deploy these systems.

Digitized records provide a timely, cost-effective way to share patient information. If physicians aren't using them in their private practices, they lose those benefits, as do the hospitals they work with. Continued use of paper records puts patients at risk for medical mistakes, ill-informed treatment decisions and unnecessary tests because hospitals and doctors don't have easy access to information about recent tests, health histories and other important data.

There are looming financial implications as well. Last year's stimulus legislation provides more than $20 billion in incentives to doctor practices, hospitals and other healthcare organizations that show they're making "meaningful use" of EHRs; meaningful use is likely to require that healthcare providers be able to electronically exchange patient data. At risk are incentive payments of as much as $64,000 for a physician practice and millions of dollars for hospitals, depending on their size. Penalties for non-compliance start in 2015, when physicians and hospitals that treat Medicare patients will see a reduction in fee reimbursements if they aren't complying with meaningful use requirements.

With so much at stake, most large hospitals aren't leaving it to chance that doctors will adopt EHRs. Partners HealthCare, which operates several Boston hospitals, has taken the atypical approach of mandating that its physicians use EHRs. Huntington Memorial Hospital is helping its doctors go digital by giving them a free e-prescription system. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Inova Health System are offering their physicians subsidized EHR systems.

These four healthcare organizations are taking different approaches, but their goals are the same: to help the independent practices with which they work make the complicated and expensive transition to EHRs.

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