Plan Aims to Help Doctors Go Electronic; Computerized Records Its Goal

Article excerpt

Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

Late one recent night, Jacksonville cardiologist Allen Seals got a call that one of his patients was in the emergency room.

In 45 seconds, he was on his home computer, looking up the patient's medical history - then giving life-saving advice to the ER doctors.

That moment, never possible before the advent of electronic health records, could be coming soon to many hundreds of physicians in Northeast Florida, thanks to a new five-year demonstration program here and in 11 other communities nationwide.

Starting next year, officials announced Monday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program will spend millions to reward small doctors' offices for switching from paper files to computerized records.

Seals, past president of the Duval County Medical Society, likes to rattle off the benefits. There are the years of blood test results, the drug interaction alerts that pop up when prescriptions are written, the pre-set reminders of when patients are due for check-ups.

Electronic record-keeping is something that lots of medical providers want - yet most don't have. At least 60 percent of Jacksonville-area physicians don't use electronic medical records, Seals said.

The expense of a new system and time spent training staff are the biggest reasons why physicians, especially in small practices, are still scribbling on paper charts, said Anne Waldron, a family physician who sits on the board for both the Duval Medical Society and the Florida Academy of Family Physicians.

The incentives, paid by the federal Medicare program, are to help primary care practices make the leap. The target size is offices with three to five physicians.

The physicians won't get reimbursed for the cost of the new systems. But they will be eligible for incentive payments that are based on how well they implement electronic health records, and whether their patients' care improves. …