AMA: Health information technology help for physicians

The following is part of a series of original guest columns by the American Medical Association.

by Joseph M. Heyman, M.D.

Health information technology (HIT) remains a hot button issue for many physicians, and opinions run the gamut. There are physicians and practice managers who are satisfied long-time users and those who question how HIT will benefit their practice and their patients.

My own experience is that of a solo-practitioner using HIT in my practice for more than nine years. Both on a personal level and as the Board Chair of the AMA, I understand the concerns and frustrations of my fellow physicians.

The high cost of HIT systems, the lack of interoperability and the disruption to workflow make many physicians wary of taking the leap into a paperless practice. For years, the AMA has worked to combat these barriers to HIT adoption and help physicians learn about their options.

When the Medicare ePrescribing incentive program was introduced, the AMA created a frequently asked questions document that explains the incentive and helps physicians take full advantage. The program provides a two percent incentive to physicians who adopt and use ePrescribing, so to help physicians get started the AMA launched an online ePrescribing learning center. This online center serves as a one-stop shop for all the information physicians need to select a system, begin ePrescribing and ready their practices for future technologies like EHRs. New tools and resources continue to be added to the learning center, and in the coming week we will be opening the site to the public so that all physicians can take advantage of these important resources.

The federal government recently set aside $19 billion to fund electronic health record (EHR) adoption through the economic stimulus bill. Beginning in 2011, physicians who serve Medicare patients will be able to receive incentives of up to $44,000 over a five-year period for the purchase and meaningful use of EHRs. By the end of this year, HHS is scheduled to issue national standards, which should go a long way toward easing system selection concerns. To help physicians better understand the HIT provisions in the stimulus bill and what it means for their practice, the AMA is hosting a series of free webinars for physicians.

The AMA’s Web site currently provides a variety of information, tools and resources for physicians on all things HIT. Physicians can access everything from self-assessment tools and information on financing options, to models and diagrams that can help when planning the transition to HIT.

We are continuing to work to make it even easier for physicians to adopt HIT. Early next year, the AMA will offer physicians a new service that will simplify the HIT decision-making and implementation process. With a single click, physicians using the service will be able to access the most useful tools, resources and education; information on the latest diseases at the point of care; e-prescribing, electronic health records, financial tools, and communication tools. These products and services will be personalized to meet specific needs and help simplify physicians’ day-to-day routines so we can focus on what we do best — care for patients.

My relationship with HIT hasn’t been all roses. I still get frustrated from time to time and have moments where I have to wait for the tech guy to resolve an issue, but those events are becoming fewer and fewer. Despite the stumbling blocks, the reality is that widespread HIT adoption can help transform the future of patient care. I see it everyday in the way I care for my patients.

Make no mistake technology should never replace the human interaction between a patient and physician, but it can enhance the relationship. For example, I now spend more time with patients because I can pull-up the information I need from a single terminal at the point of care. I no longer have to work from limited information because my patient’s chart is always available to me, even when I am away from the office.

HIT holds incredible promise for increasing patient safety, improving care coordination between multiple physicians and reducing unnecessary paper work if we can get to widespread adoption. The AMA is a valuable resource for physicians looking to learn about and adopt new technologies. I invite you to check out our resources at www.ama-assn.org/go/hit.

Joseph M. Heyman is Board Chair of the American Medical Association.

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