Spoonful of Sugar
While reporting this month’s cover story, I was reminded of why the industry has had such a difficult time implementing the information technology others take for granted. Although hospitals have made headway, physician adoption in the practice setting continues to lag. Less than one-fourth of physicians have deployed electronic medical records in their practices, a figure that should give pause to everyone.
As multiple sources pointed out, there are many valid reasons for this apparent unwillingness to step into the modern era—not the least of which is expense. Investing tens of thousands of dollars in technology that is sure to disrupt a practice’s workflow and likely to upend physician productivity would not, by any measure, be a prudent step to take.
With the relaxed Stark laws, some hospitals are trying to help physicians take the medicine everyone says they need. By making bulk purchases of EMR licenses and setting up a “hosted” server environment, these hospitals are setting the stage for far less costly deployments. “If physicians bought this software on their own, they’d pay at least 30 percent more,” says Matt Ebaugh, chief information officer at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, IL, a community hospital that is extending the technology branch to local physicians.
Ebaugh sees three drivers behind physician adoption. First, physicians coming out of residency are more computer-savvy and will only join group practices that have automated their recordkeeping. Second, P4P initiatives from the government and payers will compel, if not require, EMR adoption to demonstrate quality metrics. Third, EMR technology supports better coding, enabling physicians to get over the fear factor of the payer audit. Indeed some physicians conceded to me that they willingly leave money on the table—by deliberately undercoding their claims—rather than risk an audit.
But Ebaugh understands that despite the economic incentives, physicians still need to be in charge of their own technological destinies. That’s why Silver Cross let local physicians drive its initiative, ultimately turning over vendor selection to them. “The docs appreciated that we allowed it to be their decision,” he says. “It wasn’t the hospital trying to shove an EMR down their throats.”
Such a philosophy helps the EMR medicine go down.—Gary Baldwin