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A Doctor's IT Prescription

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, April 15, 2010

Blumenthal hopes to convince physicians on the fence change as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which includes billions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to providers and hospitals for the "meaningful use" of certified IT products. Electronic medical records (EMR) need to be from a certified vendor. Providers need to meet the meaningful use requirements for EMRs as outlined in the HITECH portion of the act to claim their share of the incentive payments.

Change is difficult. Blumenthal referred to Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, a former primary care physician in a small town in Alabama who lost her paper records to Hurricane Katrina. When her small clinic was ruined, Benjamin laid out medical charts to dry out following the storm, according to the Huffington Post.

It was only the "second" time that her paper records were destroyed that Benjamin decided to go electronic, Blumenthal said, only half joking. "And her 78-year-old nurse became extremely proficient," he added.

At the conference, Robert Austin, MD, listened to what Blumenthal had to say, and said he wasn't sure what lies ahead. Austin, a Texas physician, told Blumenthal he has been in practice for 40 years, and wasn't necessarily resistant to the idea of change, "but to the voluminous process of change."

Austin noted that if a physician had a practice with an "office of 2,000 patients, and charts that are overflowing and falling on the floor," but no assistance, "one may think at that point it is time to get out of practice."

"We [can] lose some valuable practioners," Austin added. "Do we vigorously respond to this problem that is impacting our most needy patients?"

"We are trying to make those resources and supports available within the limits of our funding and legislative authorities," Blumenthal responded. "We are trying to blanket the country with supports, technology support."

Blumenthal posed questions for physicians who are sitting on the fence. It was one of those cut-and-save moments.

"Am I going to stay in my practice? If I stay in practice is an electronic health record in my future? If it is in your future, is there a better time than now when I have the federal government willing to make $44,000 or $63,000 available in extra payments to me?"

"Is that the transition that different from the tough challenges throughout my career? Do I want to stay at the top of my game?"

"All those calculations should be part of that decision," Blumenthal said. "We're certainly hoping that when all those things line up, the decision will be made to go forward—as hard as that may be."

For many physicians, the prospect of embracing the new health information technology is like a patient taking some new medicine. Blumenthal is betting that most take it–like he did.


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Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.
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