HHS to use incentives to prod physicians, providers to adopt IT

The Department of Health and Human Services will unveil a national plan July 21 to accelerate progress toward electronic health records and other health applications to reduce medical errors and improve patient care.

Financial incentives will be key to accelerated adoption by physicians, hospitals and insurance providers.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and National Healthcare IT Coordinator Dr. David Brailer will outline shared responsibilities of the public and private sectors in encouraging health information technology.

'We are on the cusp of absolutely changing the way medicine is practiced in America,' Thompson said in a conference with reporters.

Thompson said financial incentives and federal grants, not congressional mandates, will move physicians and hospitals faster to use applications such as electronic medical records and e-prescribing.

HHS will use its influence as the largest health care payer through Medicare and Medicaid to prod adoption of IT by the industry.

For example, HHS may give providers extra points or dollar incentives to submit claims electronically for Medicare. 'We're going to use the reimbursement system to encourage best practices,' he said. The Medicare reform bill passed last year calls for use of health care IT to improve and integrate patient care, for example, for seniors with several chronic conditions.

Government's role is to stimulate investment in a national health information infrastructure and support interoperability with standards, Brailer said.

Small physician practices, which constitute the largest segment of doctors, are also the most resistant to IT adoption because of the time taken away from their patients to implement a system and the cost to their businesses. (Click here forGCN coverage.)

Physicians also find little information and guidance to separate available products and compare their costs and little help with implementation of new systems to improve their success rate, Brailer said.

'Enhanced interest by physicians will result in more use in hospitals,' he said.

President Bush issued an executive order in April that established the new Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS and required a plan within 90 days to promote health care IT. (Click here forGCN coverage.)

The report will be issued at a Secretarial Summit on Health Information Technology at the start of an HHS-sponsored conference on the national health information infrastructure, "Cornerstones for Electronic Healthcare," to take place July 21-23 in Washington, D.C.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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