Oct. 30, 2007 -- Federal officials said Wednesday they would soon launch a program aimed at convincing reluctant doctors to buy electronic medical records systems for their offices.
Officials gave few details of the plan, saying it would not get going until late winter or early spring. But it will involve doctors getting cash bonuses from Medicare for buying electronic health records systems and then reporting quality improvements to the government.
The use of computerized health records is on the rise at many large medical groups and private HMO health systems. But smaller practices have been slow to buy the systems, which can cost between $20,000 and $40,000 per year.
Many doctors are also reluctant to buy systems before industry and government groups have settled on a single standard for how the programs operate and communicate with each other.
Kerry Weems, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, says his agency will launch a 12-city project designed to nudge more small doctors' offices toward computerized systems.
Participating doctors will have to agree to report quality information to the government in order to get their share of the money.
"We're not just going to be in the business of paying for acquisition" of electronic medical record systems, Weems said in a Cincinnati news conference.
Weems said that the dozen cities have not yet been chosen, nor have any of the participating doctors' offices.
Officials also have yet to decide just how much money doctors will get.
"We'd like to get a year of data before providing bonuses," Weems said.
Electronic systems have the potential advantage of putting more information about patients' health at doctors' and nurses' fingertips. Some of the systems are programmed to help prevent medication errors, while others can automatically send updates, appointment reminders, and health advice to patients via email.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said it also would soon launch an incentive program to pay doctors for using electronic health records.
"We will reward the creation of infrastructure for greater coordination of care," said Allan Korn, MD, chief medical officer of the association, which is an umbrella group for Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in several states.
"We recognize that physicians must gravitate toward the use of an electronic health record," he said.