KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Government, With Billions In Loans, Bets Electronic Medical Records Can Improve Care

The New York Times reports that electronic health records hold potential for major improvements in health outcomes for patients as the federal government puts a renewed emphasis on implementing and digitizing patients' information.  "President Obama's economic stimulus included $19.2 billion for health information technology, and a number of hospital systems around the country are taking advantage of this financial incentive and investing their own money to foster the creation and use of electronic records that are expected to improve the quality, efficiency and safety of medical care." Digital records avoid duplication of tests, reduce errors, make surgery safer and encourage better self-care but privacy concerns remain (Brody, 2/22).

The Washington Post reports that two District of Columbia health care organizations and the District's government will receive $15.4 million in stimulus funds as part of the effort to improve patient records through digitization. "The grants, announced by federal officials last week, are part of a $750 million effort by the Obama administration to improve the nation's medical records database and enable 'widespread meaningful use' of health information technology. … Starting in 2015, health-care providers are expected to be actively using electronic records under the 'meaningful use' definition or be subject to financial penalties under Medicare." The term, "meaningful use," means using electronic health records to increase "efficiency, coordinate patient care, improve patient safety, reduce racial disparities in treatment and improve the overall health of Americans," The Post reports. The D.C. Department of Health Care will get $5.1 million while the D.C. Primary Care Association will receive $5.4 million for digitization and the Providence Health Foundation of Providence Hospital will get $4.9 million for job training (Fears, 2/23).

Las Vegas Business Press: The adoption of electronic records has lenders in Nevada courting doctors who "have been slow to move" on electronic records. "The Bank of Nevada placed a focus on electronic medical records in just the last couple of months. … The bank has been prequalifying doctors for electronic medical record systems purchases, much like homebuyers line up mortgage financing ahead of a purchase, on the expectation that deals will increase in the second quarter." Cost remains prohibitive for some doctors, however, and personal loan "guarantees (from doctors themselves) have become more difficult because of falling home values in Las Vegas. Homes often form a large part of the collateral base for a personal guarantee. Further, many doctors have seen their incomes drop in the wake of rising unemployment and the concurrent loss of medical insurance for tens of thousands of people, she said" (O'Reiley, 2/22).

San Diego Business Journal: Doctors in San Diego are saying they also are likely to begin digitizing records because it provides better care. "Several local physicians, who already use electronic medical records systems, find electronic record-keeping offers major advantages. Among them, convenience, efficiency, elimination of duplicate procedures and reduction of medical and billing errors" (Webb, 2/22). 

San Diego Business Journal, in a separate story: The financial incentives from the federal government are encouraging more doctors and hospitals than ever to update their records electronically, though the incentives won't cover the cost of the changes completely. "In the United States, about 38 percent of office-based physicians reported using fully or partially electronic medical records systems in 2008, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Electronic medical records, or EMRs, have been around for decades, said Ed Daniels, a health care technology consultant based in Denver. Recently, the Obama administration supported financial incentives, motivating hospitals to increase EMR sophistication. In the end, everyone will win, Daniels stressed" (Pierce, 2/22). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.