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Incentives for Docs to go Digital

Right now, the major beneficiaries are insurers, not physicians.
September 26, 2008

Only about 15 percent of physicians in the United States are using electronic health records (EHR), a statistic that John Halamka, chief information officer and dean for technology at Harvard Medical School, aims to change.

During a panel discussion at Technology Review’s EmTech conference earlier this week, Halamka outlined the major barrier in getting physicians to adopt these systems: misaligned incentives. While EHRs should ultimately reduce costs, doctors must spend $40,000 to $50,000 to buy an EHR system, and they lose 20 percent of their productivity in the first few months. And, at the end of the day, insurers and payers rather than physicians reap the rewards, Halamka said. His thoughts echo those of Karen Bell, another panelist who spoke with Technology Review.

Halamka, who is also chief information officer of the CareGroup Health System, described how his company took the digital leap: it mandated that academic affiliates, and eventually other affiliates, use EHRs. To ease the burden, Caregroup subsidized the cost of the systems and provided a training team for physicians.

Halamka will outline his prescription for broader adoption of EHRs in a letter to the incoming president, which will be published in the next issue of Technology Review.

For Halamka’s perspective on Healthcare IT and beyond, check out his blog, “Life as a Healthcare CTO.”

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