Medicare To Provide Electronic Health Records Software to Physicians at No Cost
Medicare in an "unprecedented move" is expected to announce plans to provide electronic health records software to doctors at no charge to help them computerize their medical practices, the New York Times reports. Currently, 20% to 25% of the nation's doctors outside of the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs are using EHRs.
While advocates say EHRs reduce errors and improve delivery of health care, many doctors have chosen not to install systems because of high costs, along with concerns that the companies selling the products and providing support will go out of business. To address the issue, Medicare beginning next month will distribute at no cost to physicians a version of Vista, a "well-proven" EHR system that has been used for 20 years by providers in the VA, the Times reports. The software currently is being used by 1,300 inpatient and outpatient VA facilities.
Medicare officials say the Vista offer could save physicians tens of thousands of dollars on computerizing costs. Purchase and installation of an EHR system could cost up to $100,000 for a five-physician private practice. By contrast, Medicare estimates that practices that install the Vista system will spend only $10,000 to $12,000 on implementation.
Experts said Medicare's effort could significantly increase use of EHRs over the long term. Because so many doctors participate in Medicare, the distribution of Vista will "make a huge difference" in U.S. health care over a period of several years, John Wasson, a Dartmouth Medical School researcher, said. Alan Garber, a Stanford University economist and internist, said, "It's a good idea. It's not foolproof." He added that Medicare's investment and the program's track record "are all signals that it might be around for a long time and a doctor in a small office would not be taking an enormous risk."
According to the Times, a major obstacle to widespread adoption of the Vista program is that it "has a reputation for being extremely difficult to install," and some say doctors might be wary of devoting the extra time that would be needed to adapt their practices to the new system. However, Medicare says it has spent three years modifying and simplifying the program use in physician offices.
The simplified version has been dubbed VistaOffice, to show that it is intended to be used in "small-office practices, not the huge VA system," the Times reports. Installation of the new version, which will be available in August, is expected to require far fewer steps than the original Vista, and Medicare will provide doctors with lists of companies that have been trained to install and maintain the system (Kolata, New York Times, 7/21).
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