A recent survey conducted by SK&A Information Services reports that “67% of medical offices with four or more physicians do not currently use [electronic medical record] software.” It is well-known that the healthcare industry lags behind other sectors in terms of information technology and automation. Paper medical records are grossly inefficient, and add billions to healthcare costs each year. Despite this fact, physicians are reluctant to adopt EMR software.

This is one of the main problems that led to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Stimulus Act sets aside $2 billion in discretionary health IT funding and $18 billion for incentive payments through Medicare and Medicaid. CMS will dole out between $44,000 and $64,000 per physician over five years for those who meet the program requirements. The point of the program is overcome physicians’ resistance to EMRs and promote their adoption.

Will the stimulus plan be enough overcome physicians’ reluctance? At this point it is hard to say. Many leading EMR suites cost tens of thousands, not counting hardware, networking, support, and maintenance. $44,000 may not pay for the more expensive CCHIT-certified systems. The stimulus package will increase demand for EMRs, which will cause their price to rise even more.

In addition to the high price tag, many physicians are simply “not computer people,” and prefer to keep using their paper charts. EMR systems also have a bad reputation. Everyone has heard the horror stories of failed implementations and $100,000 systems wasted because they are too complex, or do not function correctly. Rushing to install a system in order to cash in on stimulus payments will only make the implementation more difficult.

What then, is the answer? How can physicians reap the benefits of EMR and avoid the pitfalls? Simplicity is the key. Physicians should look for a simple system that meets their needs, avoids unnecessary complexity and expense, and can adapt to meet changing requirements. Simple systems are much easier to learn and implement, and are usually much less expensive than their counterparts.

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Ryan Ricks
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