Health IT forum convenes to decide fate of Massachusetts EMRs

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Dec. 6 – Massachusetts must decide quickly how to pay for the new electronic medical records systems and what role government should play, according to healthcare officials who attended the Mass Health Policy Forum in Boston on Wednesday, reported The Boston Globe.

The conference, hosted by the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, explored ways to apply lessons learned from the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative, which received $50 million from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts in 2004 to install pilot computer systems in North Adams, Newburyport and Brockton.

"We've been at the forefront of electronic medical records in part because of the work of the collaborative, but that money is about to run out," said Michael Doonan, executive director of the forum. "We potentially could lose our leadership if we don't act."

Chris Gabrieli, chairman of the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium, said a comprehensive plan would enable Massachusetts to start using electronic medical records more quickly.

Doonan said another obstacle to widespread adoption of the systems is how the expense would be divided. Doctors and medical practices would incur most of the costs, he said, while health plans would enjoy most of the savings.

"When this happens, you can't expect the market to accomplish this," Doonan said. "There is a role for the state to play to maximize the social benefits for all of us from having electronic medical records."

According to The Boston Globe, a panel discussion also considered the role of the state and private sector in promoting and financing expansion of health IT, and the possibility of developing a broad and systematic roadmap for statewide adoption of health IT. Micky Tripathi, CEO of the eHealth collaborative, said that a statewide implementation of electronic medical records could cost about $500 million over five years.

"If we leave this to the market, there will be a growing digital divide between doctors practices with fewer than 10 physicians, who don't want to pay for the new equipment, and the large medical systems that already are putting EMR machines in place," Tripathi said.