Hurry Up… and Wait

From the American Academy of Family Physicians Scientific Assembly in Boston.

There was an awful lot of frustration and confusion from the family physicians who turned out for a session at the AAFP meeting about the federal funds available for doctors who adopt health information technology.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons User phil_g

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons User phil_g

It was late afternoon and by my count more than 70 doctors packed into the small conference room to hear the AAFP’s technology gurus outline the provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act–the stimulus law–that make funds available to doctors who successfully use electronic health record systems. But at the end of the presentation, some in the audience seemed more uncertain than ever. Family doctor Norah Walsh of Los Lunas, N.M., summed things up. The government expects physicians to have certified EHR systems up and running in their practices by 2011, but the standards for certification aren’t out yet and no one can say for sure which vendors will be able to offer certified systems. So what’s a doctor to do?

Dr. Walsh, who spent $50,000 on an EHR system in 2000 that was useless to her practice, said she’s not going to rush to buy anything. Right now she’s planning to investigate freely available EHR software.

Dr. David Kibbe, the senior advisor to the AAFP’s Center for Health Information Technology, said he’s confident that the standards will be published soon and that many vendors will rise to the challenge. But it could take several months or a year before the marketplace looks more stable. In the meantime, don’t rush into buying a system. Just do your homework, Dr. Kibbe advised.

But his colleague Dr. Steven Waldren, who runs the center, made things a little more complicated. He told physicians that the longer they wait, the more likely it is that they will choose a system that is certified and will qualify for federal incentive payments. But on the other hand, the longer they wait, the greater the chance that they won’t have implemented the system in time to get the federal funds. Do what is best for you and your practice, Dr. Waldren told attendees.

So what will you do? Are you planning to purchase an EHR in the next two years? Share your thoughts.

— Mary Ellen Schneider (Twitter @MaryEllenNY)

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Filed under Family Medicine, health reform, Practice Trends, Primary care

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