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State tops in converting health entries

By David Smith

This article was published January 15, 2013 at 12:34 a.m.

— Arkansas’ family practice physicians are outdoing their national peers in converting from paper to electronic records, which promise better efficiency and containment of cost, according a report in the Annals of Family Medicine.

About 68 percent of family physicians in the U.S. had converted their practices to electronic records as of 2011, roughly double what it had been in 2005, according to the Annals of Family Medicine article released Monday.

In Arkansas, up to 74 percent of family physicians are converting their records from paper to electronic files, according to the report.

Participation for family physicians nationwide is expected to reach 80 percent this year.

There was only a 34 percent national adoption rate for all physicians to electronic records in 2011, the most recent data available, the report said.

Family physicians are the largest group of primary care physicians, according to the report, lead author of which was Imam Xierali of the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C.

The Obama administration is providing incentives for physician offices that make the change while reducing reimbursement under Medicare for offices that do not change.

The push for electronic health records began under former President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama continued it and provided funding through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Physicians can qualify for up to $44,000 for conversion of Medicare records, and $63,750 for Medicaid changeover within five years. That is for each physician in a clinic, up to 10 doctors, so the total incentive could be as high as $637,500for a 10-physician clinic.

Failure to carry out the conversion will result in reduced reimbursement.

Physicians may choose to convert all their paper files to electronic records or begin conversion simply from a particular point in time, said David Wroten, executive vice president of the Arkansas Medical Society, which represents physicians.

“There is no question for the majority of physicians using paper most of their career, converting records can be a difficult transition,” said Jonathan Fuchs, chief operating officer for the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care. The foundation works under a contract with the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to review and help improve health care offered to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

“For younger physicians who have greater experience using electronics, it may not be all that difficult,” Fuchs said.

Electronic health records are generally expected to improve the quality of health care, lower health-care costs and provide patients with more involvement in their own health care, the report said.

The conversion can actually slow productivity initially, Wroten said.

“It requires you to rethink all the different processes you have in a clinic,” Wroten said.

As everything is incorporated and as most health-care providers are using electronic files, efficiency should improve, Fuchs said.

There should be fewer duplication of patient tests and fewer instances of patients recalled for visits, Fuchs said. Fuchs told of two recent doctors’ appointments he had where each physician ordered the same test.

“And over time, as the practitioner and their office get use to the system, the work flows much smoother,” Fuchs said.

Business, Pages 21 on 01/15/2013

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