EHR regulations prompt loan programs, pilot projects

Health insurers, doctors and government organizations are moving closer to implementing electronic health records — something analysts say will save millions in health care costs and earn providers incentive dollars from the federal government.

Cost is the main barrier to implementing reform, so Ingenix is offering a solution to the program: interest-free financing for doctors who need to implement electronic record-keeping.

Doctors can apply for funding now, and pay for the program during 2011 when reimbursements from the federal government are scheduled to begin.

The loans are underwritten by OptumHealth Bank and are an attempt by Ingenix to capitalize on the federal dollars set aside for electronic health records under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The federal government will reimburse doctors up to $44,000 during five years for implementing the new technology.

Studies show that more than 80 percent ranked costs as a great risk to deploying new technology in their practices. Eliminating upfront hardware and software costs is key to facilitating widespread adoption of EHRs.

The move by Ingenix comes as other groups are also venturing into ways of sharing medical information.

Kaiser’s pilot program

Kaiser Permanente has launched a medical data exchange program with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that allows doctors in both groups to use patients’ electronic health records.

The move is an opportunity to explore ways that electronic medical records can work between two different systems, said Eric Shinseki, secretary of veterans’ affairs.

The new agreement provides a gateway to support interoperability standards as well as a legal framework for the secure exchange of health information — two stumbling blocks for national adoption of electronic records.

During the pilot project, doctors can electronically and securely share authorized patient data, ensuring access to information 24 hours a day.

The project connects the VA program, VistA, with Kaiser’s HealthConnect program. The next phase will add authorized information from the Department of Defense’s health care system to the exchange. Ultimately, the program will be available to the entire U.S. military.

“Instant access to critical health data can greatly improve not only the care and service for individual patients, but also reduce redundancy and waste in health care, saving precious resources for care delivery,” said John Mattison, assistant medical director and chief medical information officer for Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “Enhanced patient safety, efficiency, convenience and doctor-patient communication all can be facilitated by health care information technology, and we have developed a secure and private way to exchange the information caregivers need that we hope will become a model for interoperability in health care.”

Since more than half of America’s veterans and active duty service members receive some portion of their health care outside of VA or DOD facilities, interoperability between federal agencies and the private sector is essential to provide the best care for veterans, service members and their dependents.

A national effort is under way to promote the use of EHRs.

CMS seeking comment

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is asking for public comment about two proposed rules for electronic health records.

The first rule defines “meaningful use” as using EHRs to improve quality, safety and efficiency of health care delivery, reduce disparities, engage patients and families, improve care coordination, improve public health and ensure adequate privacy.

The second rule proposes that doctors and hospitals would be rewarded for implementing a phased approach.

“Widespread adoption of electronic health records holds great promise for improving health care quality, efficiency and patient safety,” said David Blumenthal, national coordination for health information technology. “Over time, we believe the EHR incentive program under Medicare and Medicaid will accelerate and facilitate health information technology adoption by more individual providers and organization throughout the health care system.”

The two regulations are linked, one would define how to demonstrate meaningful use, and the other would outline proposed payment for the incentive programs.

The program is in the final days for public comment on the two industry standards, and a final rule will be issued this year.

The Recovery Act established programs to provide incentive payments to eligible professionals and hospitals participating in Medicare and Medicaid that adopt and make meaningful use of the technology. Incentive payments could begin as soon as October for eligible hospitals and January 2011 for other providers.

To comment on the rules go to _HealthIT.asp.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.