Georgia kicks off electronic health records campaign

ATLANTA -- Physicians and hospitals across the state are pondering a $64,000 question, whether to computerize the records of their government-insured patients.


To encourage computerization, the federal government is offering incentives between $44,000 through Medicare and $64,000 through Medicaid.

So far, 55 percent of the state’s physicians already took the plunge into electronic health records, or EHRs, according to those who participated in a March survey by the Medical Association of Georgia.

And the University System of Georgia is creating degree programs to turn out the legions of new professionals required to input and manage these records, called health informatics.

“Adoption and meaningful use of EHRs by all providers will be a big challenge, and states have an important role in helping to bring about that transition,” said David Cook, Georgia’s commissioner of community health.

The state Department of Community Health is more than a cheerleader. It’s also using input from the providers on how to set up a secure network for exchanging the medical records in a usable form for the providers, pharmacies and claims administrators who’ll eventually be using them while safeguarding the privacy of patients.

Many of the state’s larger hospitals and physician groups have already made the switch for internal use. Community Health will provide additional payments and extra assistance to the smaller practices and hospitals.

“This will help providers adopt electronic health records and achieve meaningful use, from on-the-ground support for providers to workforce training to health information exchange to broadband expansions,” said Kelly Gonzalez, the department’s coordinator.

Patients will eventually benefit, department officials say, because all of their doctors will have access to the same information. That could mean repeating fewer costly tests. It could also mean they’ll one day be better equipped to control more of their own health care.

The number of Georgia physicians who participate in Medicaid has declined 15 percent since 2009, according to department figures. The cash incentive could turn that around, according to Tom Kornegay, director of communications for the Medical Association of Georgia.

Kornegay says the physicians have shunned the government-insurance programs because their payment rates for Medicare and Medicaid are below the cost of providing the care.

“The addition of 600,000 new patients to the Medicaid system in Georgia as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (known as federal health reform) will only exacerbate matters,” he said. “This ultimately means that the state’s most needy patients will find it increasingly difficult to get the medical care they need.”


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