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AAFP President-elect Testifies to Congress
Financial, Technical Support Are Keys to Health IT Adoption by Small Physician Practices
By James Arvantes • Washington
"H(ealth) IT is critical to improving quality and effectiveness of patient care," Goertz told committee members during the hearing. He added, however, that "physicians in small, rural practices must receive technical support during implementation and use of (health) IT."
One portion of the ARRA, known as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH, Act, focuses on promoting the adoption of health IT among hospitals, physicians and other health care providers. HITECH authorizes $2 billion in grants for the creation of several programs to spur health IT use, including a beacon community program, a health IT workforce program and a health IT extension program.
Help Needed to Qualify for HITECH Incentives
"We believe that the recent meaningful use regulations will support what the AAFP already has been doing for years," said Goertz. "Our focus has been to ensure that the meaningful use rules are achievable for physicians in small and medium-sized practices and improve patient care. Our members want to accomplish what Congress intends."
"Solo, small rural practices, in particular, are short of time and dollars," said Goertz. "They are busy focusing on patient care and operating on small margins. Assisting them is critical to making (health) IT work in the U.S."
Therefore, Goertz said, "the HITECH grants are critical, as physicians make these transformative changes to their practices."
Incentives Powerful Persuasive Tool, FP Testifies
Heslin said, however, that the incentives provided as part of HITECH would help him persuade his colleagues that "there is critical mass, that this is doable at the community level, and they need to move along the same pathway to benefit their patients and community."
"Not only is the software, hardware and necessary infrastructure costly, but the process of seeing patients in the initial weeks of transitioning to use of an electronic record requires changes in workflow that will likely decrease efficiency and the number of patients seen daily," said Winkleman, who is one of the physician owners of the Primary Care Group in Harrisburg.
Health IT Extension Program Targets Small Practices
"I think of the regional extension centers as a comprehensive support team for small practices," Goertz testified. "These centers will provide not only technical assistance, but general information when these small practices need help."
He called on Congress to "closely monitor the implementation and resources of the regional extension program as they are essential to the success of these practices."
David Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.P., the national coordinator for health IT within HHS, also testified (13-page PDF; About PDFs) before the subcommittee.
Blumenthal acknowledged the obstacles faced by small physician practices, saying "those are the practitioners who are having the hardest time." He added, however, that the regional extension centers are geared toward small physician practices.
"We are beginning to enroll 100,000 small practices into the regional extension program," Blumenthal said. "That is going to be a big opportunity for small practices," he said.
EHR Use Improves Patient Care, Practice Efficiency
Fourteen years ago, he said, several physicians working at the federally qualified health center were not comfortable with computers. But now, according to Goertz, "not one of our providers would return to paper records."
"We are absolutely convinced that our use of the EHRs has led to improved patient care and efficiencies," he said.
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