The Year of the EMR?

April 1, 2004

Government pressures physicians to adopt EMRs

Uncle Sam wants you to buy an electronic medical record (EMR).
In his State of the Union address, President Bush said that "by computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care."

Indeed, Bush even put some money where his mouth is, including $100 million in his fiscal 2005 budget request for projects that adopt health information technology.

And the president isn't the only politician trying to push technological innovation on American healthcare.

On January 12, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation calling for establishment of voluntary "interoperability standards" for healthcare record technology. Congress also toyed with the idea of mandating electronic prescribing -- a launching point for EMRs in some practices -- while it was crafting last year's Medicare reform legislation. They backed off, for now.

In short, the powers that be are gently cheering EMR use.
I hope they stop it.

That is not a slam on EMRs. Chosen wisely and implemented carefully, the current crop can clearly improve patient care, physician productivity, and reimbursement. The costs are declining while the benefits are rising.

And more practices are seeing it that way. Eighty percent of family physicians said in a survey last year that they've considered getting one, and two-thirds of those hope to implement it this year. That's one reason EMR sales will approach $1.88 billion this year, outpacing sales of practice management systems for the first time, according to Forrester Research.

The point is, healthcare is moving toward IT innovation without government assistance, thanks, and I worry that federal intervention could do more to stymie this trend than to encourage it. Already fed up with HIPAA, Medicare, Stark, and all the rest, I sense physicians will revolt against any more federal mandates.

EMRs are good for patients and physicians. And all signs are that 2004 could be a breakthrough year -- a time when the systems go mainstream. Here's hoping more physicians buy technology that works for their practices before the government picks a technology that works for it.

Send your feedback on this or other topics to Pamela Moore, senior editor, practice management, at pmoore@physicianspractice.com.

This article originally appeared in the April 2004 issue of Physicians Practice.