Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Federal plan targets electronic health files

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday rolled out an ambitious five-year plan for moving doctors and hospitals to computerized medical records, promising greater safety for patients and lower costs.
Starting next year, doctors' offices and hospitals can get federal money to help defray the costs of the systems, which can run to millions of dollars for hospitals. Providers who don't comply by 2015 will face cuts in Medicare payments.

Federal incentive payments for doctors and hospitals to buy computerized systems could reach $27 billion over 10 years, and that's only a fraction of what technology vendors stand to take in. It is hoped the investment will streamline the delivery of medical care, yielding long-run savings.

Patients get the benefit of systems that can warn doctors before they make a mistake — prescribing a drug that could cause a severe reaction, for example. And there's also the convenience of being able to access records online.

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The move by the Health and Human Services Department came with the release of two regulations hundreds of pages long.

The main one described how doctors and hospitals can qualify for federal money by acquiring systems that meet certain "meaningful use" standards. A companion rule outlined how the systems will be certified.

Initial reaction from key interest groups was guarded.

As lawyers pored over the text of the regulations, the American Medical Association said it was withholding judgment.

The American Hospital Association said it is concerned about several aspects.

Federal officials said they tried to address doctors' concerns that the initial draft of the rule asked them to do too much, too quickly.

More than half of family doctors practice in groups of four or fewer.

A majority of small and medium offices have opted not to adopt electronic records because of costs and unresolved questions, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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