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EHR Cost Savings Could Extend to Health Plans

Health plans don’t directly use electronic health records, but because EHRs could save insurers some money, health plans will want to do everything they can to make the EHR transition smooth, according to Patrick Johnston, president and CEO of the California Association of Health Plans.

Johnston’s organization put together a health care forum yesterday in Burlingame that focused on health plans’ involvement in the EHR movement.

“We as health plans do have a responsibility to address cost drivers in our own business,” Johnston said. “That which plans spend themselves and that which cause our providers to spend. And that’s a complex subject matter.”

David Lansky spoke at the forum. He’s president of the Pacific Business Group on Health and co-chair of the California eConnect board.

He said that health plans could act as a standard-setter, to help make sure that all of the disparate EHR systems being used in California have a similar language and form, as well as to set goals for providers to meet those standards.

“If health plans could use [the] same criteria in health [information technology],” Lansky said, “then we could get some synergy in the market, where people might feel rewarded for meeting these goals.”

According to David Ford of the California Medical Association, federal incentives don’t cover the full cost of EHR implementation, and that might be something the health plans could help facilitate. Health plans are likely to make more money through greater efficiency when EHRs are fully adopted.

“For anyone who believes this is the future of medicine,” Ford said, “know that we need to give physicians a lot of help. There are huge efficiencies that can be gained, so really, the physicians and hospitals and health plans are all aligned here.”

The primary contribution of health plans, though, will not be money, Ford said. It will be support and cooperation for a really good idea.

“Health plans could be more supportive of EHR adoption efforts,” Ford said. “Also, they could support health information exchanges, which is more than the technical aspects of getting data from Point A to Point B, but deciding how much information they’re willing to share.”

One other thing, he said: Helping also means not obstructing.

“The main thing is removing barriers to adoption,” Ford said, “and there are some concrete things health plans can do, like uniform prior authorization. If we had one form, we could use that as a template in EHR — that would be a huge incentive for physicians, and it would generate huge efficiency.”

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