Electronic medical records net rewards
Posted: Oct 31, 2011
By Ken Alltucker – The Arizona Republic

Arizona hospitals and doctors have started reaping financial rewards for converting to electronic health records.

The state’s Medicaid program last week sent out $15.7 million in federal stimulus payments to nine Banner Health and three other hospitals that attested to using electronic health records.

It’s the first batch of payments sent to Arizona hospitals, which can reap larger payments next year if they demonstrate they have achieved “meaningful use” of electronic health records. The federal government evaluates meaningful use on 23 standards, such as compiling medication lists or providing patients with digital copies of their records.

Arizona’s doctors, nurse practitioners and other medical providers also are starting to collect payments for using electronic health records. Through August, 20 doctors and other providers collected an average of $18,000 in Medicare payments.

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program, initially sent Medicaid incentive payments to hospitals because of timetables set by the federal government. Medicaid money soon will begin flowing to eligible doctors and other smaller practitioners.

“The first batch of payments were sent (to hospitals), and now they will be sending payments on a monthly basis,” said Melissa Rutala, CEO of Arizona Health-e Connection, a Phoenix-based non-profit that leads efforts to help convert smaller medical practices to digital records.

Arizona Health-e Connection estimates that 2,000 medical providers in Arizona could be eligible for incentive payments.

The payments are part of the federal government’s push to compel widespread use of digital records at hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and other medical settings.

Advocates say electronic records systems can make health care better by reducing medication errors and improving efficiency. Yet some doctors’ offices find the switch challenging because the systems can be expensive and a lot of time is required to train staff to adequately use such digital systems.

In all, Arizona health providers stand to collect hundreds of millions in federal incentives . Those that do not switch to digital records by 2015 could face financial penalties.

Banner Health, Arizona’s largest hospital system, has received the largest share of incentive payments. Nine Banner Health hospitals last week collected $12.4 million in payments, according to records from AHCCCS.

Tucson Medical Center collected $2.4 million in payments, and two rural hospitals, Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center and Copper Queen Community Hospital, each received more than $400,000.

Phoenix-based Banner Health has aggressively pursued electronic health records since it opened the all-digital Banner Estrella Medical Center in 2005. All of Banner’s 23 hospitals are using digital records or are converting to them.

Banner Health estimates that all of its hospitals and physician clinics will be eligible to collect $147 million over the next five years under the stimulus program, a Banner Health spokesman said.

Smaller doctors’ practices and other care providers can get up to $44,000 from Medicare or $63,750 through Medicaid.

Source: AZCentral.com
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