Health IT bill would help physicians pay technology tab

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New legislation has been introduced to help doctors in small practices pay the steep prices that can come with implementing health information technology. The bill, known as the National Health Information Incentive Act, was introduced by Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) and Rep. Phil Gingrey (R - GA) and would offer various forms of financial assistance such as grants, loans, and tax incentives to reduce costs faced by physicians.

The bill aims to widen access to health IT, and as a result boost healthcare efficiency and ease access to medical records.

“Widespread HIT adoption will revolutionize the standard and quality of healthcare received in America. Just as government investment has catalyzed research in other industries, the incentives provided in this legislation will spark adoption of these technologies, resulting in vast public health benefits,” said Gonzalez. “These incentives attack the very root of the problem facing small practices, where a majority of Americans receive their care, by helping them overcome financial obstacles they face with HIT implementation.”

Gonzalez is the chair of the Small Business Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulation, Healthcare, and Trade, which met to discuss the matter of health IT adoption last month.

“The future of American healthcare will be determined in large part by our adoption of health information technology,” said Gingrey, who is also a physician. “Right now, the healthcare sector is woefully behind in using technology to reduce medical errors and streamline care. I can go to Antarctica and get cash from an ATM without a glitch, but should I fall ill during my travels, a hospital there couldn’t access my medical records or know what medications I take. Our ATMs shouldn’t be more advanced than our medical records.” 

As a physician, I know many doctor offices are small businesses, and every dollar counts. By providing financial incentives for doctors to adopt health IT, this bill will get life-saving technology into physician offices and into the lives of American patients,” Gingrey added. 

The legislation has gotten early support by the American College of Physicians (ACP).

ACP President Lynne M. Kirk, MD, FACP said "Increased use of health information technology could greatly benefit health care in the U.S. through improved patient care, reduction in medical errors, higher efficiency, and potential long run cost savings."

"The proposed financial incentives would make it possible for physicians in small practices to invest in the technology and encourage its continued use to improve patient care," said Kirk.

In surveys of ACP members involved in direct patient care after training, approximately 20 percent report they are in solo practice, and 50 percent are in practices of five or fewer physicians. ACP also sited information published in an article in Health Affairs, "The Value of Electronic Health Records in Solo or Small Group Practices," that found the average acquisition cost for an EHRs to have been $44,000 per physician in 2005. And the systems can have annual costs of $8,500 per physician to maintain.

The bill also provides sustained funding, through changes in Medicare reimbursement, to support continued use of such technologies by authorizing an add-on payment to Medicare office visits when supported by such technologies and separate payment for email consultations that meet defined standards of appropriateness, ACP said.

"We urge Congress to get behind this bill as an effective and cost-effective way to begin improving the quality of patient care through effective use of HIT," said Kirk.