Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Stimulus cash to help doctors go electronic | The Columbus Dispatch

Stimulus cash to help doctors go electronic | The Columbus Dispatch

Columbus-area doctors who don't have the time or money to find an electronic medical-records system for their office will soon get help.

Gov. Ted Strickland announced yesterday that the Central Ohio Health Information Exchange will receive $6 million in federal funds to help 1,352 primary-care physicians switch from paper to electronic health records.

Moving to an electronic system is expected to save money by reducing repetition of tests and medical errors, proponents say.

"It's indefensible for us to accept the status quo," Strickland said in an interview. "It's time that we use the capabilities we now have available."

The money is part of $28.5 million in federal stimulus funds the state received in February to help create an electronic health system. Seven groups across the state will help about 6,000 physicians make the switch.

The funds will be used to educate doctors in practices of 10 physicians or fewer about systems on the market, provide technical support and make sure vendors do their jobs.

"It's really difficult. That's why the federal government's involved," said Philip Cass, executive director of the Columbus Medical Association.

"It's costly, and small practices, especially primary-care practices, ... are having to crank through large numbers of (patients), so this will be considerable assistance to them."

The federal government has long pushed for electronic health records and will reward doctors who get on board with higher Medicare payments. Those who don't switch eventually will be penalized.

With fewer than 25 percent of Ohio's 30,000 physicians currently using electronic medical records, this move from paper to computer could take as long as five years, experts say.

The information exchange is a group that includes Franklin County hospitals, the Columbus Medical Association, Access HealthColumbus and some large employers and physician groups.

They'll work with doctors and small hospitals in a 14-county area, said Jeff Klingler, president of the Central Ohio Hospital Council.

Other groups receiving money include the Akron Regional Hospital Association, Case Western Reserve University, the Greater Dayton Area Health Information Network, the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio, Northeast Ohio HealthForce and Ohio University.

Greater Cincinnati HealthBridge, a regional electronic health-records entity, received its own grant of $9.7 million to help doctors make the switch.


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