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CalHIPSO Still Has ARRA Health IT Money To Spend

More and more primary care providers are ditching their file folders and moving into the era of electronic health records, a trend marked by a milestone achievement in California and highlighted this week in Washington.

“Five or 10 years ago, it was a question of whether or not a provider would adopt electronic patient records; today it’s a question of when they will adopt it,” said Speranza Avram, executive director of the California Health Information Partnership and Services Organization.

Her Oakland-based organization announced last week it has enrolled more than 6,187 health care providers, mainly community health centers and small medical practices, in programs designed to assist transition to EHRs. The programs, funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, pay for consultants in regional extension centers across California to provide medical practices with training in implementing electronic patient record-keeping.

“While medical providers still have to pay for the computers and the software, we act as an adoption coach that helps them move through the stages of going from a paper-based practice to an electronic practice,” Avram said.

CalHIPSO achieved its first enrollment goal recently with adoption of EHRs by Family Health Medical Center in Los Banos, she said. CalHIPSO still has funding to subsidize transition programs for about 1,500 more primary care providers, but applicants need to act quickly because money from the Recovery and Reinvestment Act is limited, Avram added.

A California HealthCare Foundation survey released in May found that only 55% of primary care physicians in the state use EHR systems. The smallest practices — with five or fewer doctors — are least likely to have them. The CHCF report noted a surge in EHRs at community clinics, from 3% in 2005 to 47% this year, chiefly due to federal funding support.

CHCF publishes California Healthline.

CalHIPSO’s progress in signing up community clinics and small medical practices — who don’t have the same financial wherewithal as corporate giants like Kaiser Permanente or Sutter Health — comes at a time when health information technology experts are marking the progress of electronic record-keeping with a congressional briefing and a health policy summit this week in Washington.

On Monday, President Obama kicked off National Health Information Technology Week with a proclamation that declared electronically available patient data — from blood test results to prescriptions to body scans — had become an integral part of affordable and accurate patient care.

His proclamation said:

“Health information technology connects doctors and patients to more complete and accurate health records. Tools like electronic health records and electronic prescriptions help patients and providers make safer, smarter decisions about health care. This technology is critical to improving patient care, enabling coordination between providers and patients, reducing the risk of dangerous drug interactions, and helping patients access prevention and disease management services.”

The president also credited the financial recovery act, passed in 2009, with “providing landmark financial incentives to eligible professionals and hospitals that adopt and meaningfully use electronic health records while protecting the privacy and security of health information.”

CalHIPSO is one of 62 regional extension centers in the U.S. that shares in $33.2 million in funding from the financial recovery act.

In California alone, there are 10 local extension centers that bring health information expertise to community clinics and small primary care practices. At the Redwood Community Health Network, for example, the subsidiary of the Redwood Community Health Coalition focuses on providing electronic health information support to 10 federally qualified health centers, two free clinics, a hospital-based clinic, an Indian Health Center and independent primary care providers in Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Yolo counties.

Advocates of electronic health records welcome renewed emphasis on digital access, especially in light of threats that Medicare or Medicaid funding will likely suffer as lawmakers tackle federal debt reduction.

David Roberts, vice president for government relations for Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, said in a prepared statement that bringing together health information experts representing about 200 different  public and private entities this week in Washington is “crucial… to educate both industry and policy stakeholders on the value of health IT to transform our U.S. health care system.”

Events in Washington include a news briefing today by congressional representatives as well as advocates in public agencies and private industries who view electronic health records as important in reducing health care costs and improving safety of health care delivery. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, there will be a series of public policy sessions featuring health information experts, some of which will be available through webcast or through webinar access codes.

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