Who Should Pay for EHRs?

Published Online: Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Debate continues as to whether physicians need incentives to go digital. Although experts agree that electronic health records (EHRs) catch medical errors and trim costs by avoiding duplication, there is no uniform way to share digital information with other physicians, pharmacists, hospitals, or insurers.

For some health care professionals, the problem boils down to physicians being asked to spend thousands of dollars on technology while health insurers get the savings from fewer medical mistakes. Studies reported in Health Affairs found that only 11% of practices with 10 or fewer physicians are fully digital. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who created the Center for Health Transformation consulting group, has said that the incentives should come from the Medicaid and Medicare insurance programs. Tax breaks and special loans to speed the adoption of EHRs should be a consideration, according to other health experts.

President George W. Bush has set a goal of 2014 for all Americans to have EHRs. His administration also has funded the US Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The Health and Human Services Department has given >$36 million to develop integrated networks, set standards, and work on privacy issues. Four companies are using some of the funds to develop a national health network prototype. The groups hope to have the network ready later this year.

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