by Sven Larsen (@zemoga)
Electronic health records (EHRs) are widely seen as a way to standardize patient data in a way that improves accuracy and drives down costs which is why the federal government is offering financial incentives to physicians who get on board now, and will eventually levy penalties against those who do not, at least in terms of Medicare reimbursements.
Clear incentives, clear benefits so why arent more medical practices getting on board?
The government isnt forcing doctors and other providers to make the switch. But if they dont, Medicare will begin deducting one percent of their payments in 2015. The penalty rises each year to a maximum of five percent in 2019.
The goal is to bring the last outposts of the nations health care system into the computer age, linking medical providers so that they can coordinate and improve patient care and ¢‚Ç¨” in the process¢‚Ç¨”reduce unnecessary health care spending. But convincing everyone to use electronic health records has not been easy.
Even with incentives, cost is a big factor. According to a story published by the non-profit iWatch News service, initial costs in a small physician group can run $20,000 per physician. But beyond the initial costs, uncertainty about ongoing charges, flexibility with other systems and staff training seems to be at the heart of most reluctance.
So far, about 81,000 physicians in hospitals, clinics and private offices have registered with regional extension centers for technical help to apply for the bonuses, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information, which runs the program in the Department of Health and Human Services. Of those, nearly 31,000 work in small group practices.
The available statistics seem to indicate that the percentage of those who have signed up is modest, although theres much uncertainty about the numbers, said Brian Bruen, a research scientist at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. Even the most optimistic estimates show that the Office of the National Coordinator has a good deal of work ahead.
And theres little doubt that doctors in small group practices play an important role in making the electronic records initiative a success — 75 percent of visits to doctors occur in practices of fewer than five physicians.
Despite his financial worries, the merits of such systems hold benefits for physicians, patients and pharma marketers the latter through better patient communication and care.
For example, electronic records would let a physician or practice generate a list every month of patients at risk for diabetes who need blood sugar levels checked. The list would also identify patients whose levels remain high despite medication and that trigger further follow-up. An electronic health record system could generate the list in five minutes, but manually gathering such data through paper records would take hours.
Right now, theres little pharma marketers can do other than observe as this dynamic plays out in thousands of small practices across the country. But make no mistake: Electronic health records are coming and, even with hesitancy, will soon be the new normal. Thats going to open up a world of more-accurate and more-regular communication among physicians and their patients; in that landscape, how will you help them understand your products features and benefits?