Survey defines physician costs for EHRs

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The average cost per physician in starting up an EHR system could be as high as $33,000, so says a special issue of Health Affairs that last month released the results of a web and telephone response based survey. And the up-front capital expense is just for starters, as physicians also will be hit for at least $1,500 in monthly system maintenance. The survey suggests that smaller practices will face higher costs than those seen by larger groups.
   
The survey, conducted by The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) and researchers from the University of Minnesota, included more than 3,600 physician group practices who were contacted between January and February of this year.

The study findings suggest that financial assistance is likely to be needed to get more practices to adopt EHRs, said William Jessee, MD, executive director of MGMA. "The fact is that practices that have made the investment have done so despite the fact their doctors take home less pay," he said.
   
Money for adoption isn't "coming out of stocks and bonds, but out of pockets. It's going to be really, really hard to convince others to go out and buy an electronic medical records system," Jessee added.

According to the study authors, small practices have lower EHR adoption rates. "We found that about 12 percent of practices with five or fewer full-time-equivalent physicians have EHRs, while practices with more than 10 physicians have higher rates -- about 19 percent," according to the survey.

Other bad news comes in a stagnation of adoption rates over the past three years, Jessee said.
   
Health Affairs also published a number of other articles which address EHR adoption, including:

  • A study conducted by the University of California, which focuses on solo and small practices which estimates EHR implementation costs for solo and small practices to be $44,000 per physician with $8,500 each in annual maintenance fees. The bright side is that smaller practices are believed to show a faster ROI;

  • Another study by the RAND Corp. approximates a $ 7.6 billion per year price tag over 15 years for adoption by hospitals and physicians to get them on board with EHRs. Again, there is a bright side, as broad health IT adoption could produce savings of $162 billion over time for the industry as well as 2.2 million fewer prescription-related errors.