Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Stimulus May Help Paperless Conversion in Oklahoma

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Stimulus May Help Paperless Conversion in Oklahoma

Article excerpt

Oklahoma's primary care physicians aren't clustered in practices of 20 or 30 providers.

Mostly, they work in two- or three-physician offices with an equally small staff to support them and plenty of patients to see.

Increasingly, they are watching the hourglass sand dwindle on their timeline to install an electronic health record.

Implementing an electronic health record (EHR) can be intimidating in terms of cost, lost productivity and change in work flow. But the Oklahoma Foundation for Medical Quality is using federal stimulus dollars to help the state's doctors work through the process. Time is of the essence, both for providers to qualify for additional federal incentives and to avoid financial penalties.

"The bottom line is that this has the potential to really improve health care in Oklahoma," said Dr. Dan Golder, chief information officer for the Oklahoma Foundation for Medical Quality. "But there are challenges to getting there."

In February, the Oklahoma Foundation for Medical Quality (OFMQ) won a contract for $5.3 million in federal stimulus money to help about 1,000 of the state's primary care physicians with their EHRs. The contract directs that the money and staff mostly focus on small, rural practitioners, said Dr. Dale Bratzler, president and CEO of OFMQ. The OFMQ - the state's Medicare quality improvement organization - has hired a new information officer in Golder and 14 new people to canvass the state with EHR help.

The federal funding is important, Golder said, because physicians simply don't have the resources on their own to select, implement and become proficient with an EHR.

"If you look at how a hospital implements an EHR, they have folks doing a financial analysis and a strategic plan and others looking at vendor selection and clinicians advising on work flow design," Golder said. "But the solo doc who has the office in small town doesn't have any of that. He's got a paper system and a couple of office staff who know how to use paper. He'll sign a contract with a vendor and get some vendor support, but all the other stuff, he doesn't have. We're the other stuff."

The OFMQ works with physicians from the moment they select an EHR vendor through its implementation, the inevitable growing pains and the criteria to get federal incentives. Although physicians are worried about the interruption to their work, the bigger concern is usually the cost of a system, Golder said. Most small practices can't afford the security requirements of housing EHR data in- house, he said, so they are candidates for an Application Services Provider. In that scenario, the data is housed in another location and the physician accesses it through a Web browser. The cost for such a system could range from $2,500 to $5,000 in startup costs and $500 to $700 in monthly fees. …

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