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ACP Supports New Bill to Encourage the Adoption of Health Information Technology

February 11, 2005

(Washington, DC): The American College of Physicians (ACP) congratulates Representatives John McHugh (R-NY) and Charles Gonzalez (D-TX) on the introduction of the "National Health Information Incentive Act of 2005."

Health care in America could greatly benefit from increased use of health information technology (HIT) through improved patient care, reduction in medical errors, higher efficiency, and potential long run cost savings.

This bill is designed to facilitate the development and adoption of national standards, and to provide initial financial support and ongoing reimbursement incentives for physicians in smaller practices to adopt HIT to support quality improvement activities. The legislation is based in large part on ideas originally developed by ACP.

HIT systems include interoperable applications such as electronic health records, electronic prescribing systems, and evidence based clinical decision support software. These systems would give physicians instant access to crucial patient information, deliver current medical research information, and best clinical practice information to the physician at the point-of-care, when the physician needs it.

In order to take full advantage of the benefits of HIT the bill is designed to carefully implement the use of this new technology. First the bill will set national trial standards to ensure systems are designed properly to work both independently and with one another. Next these standards will be tested through pilot programs. This is a crucial step to ensure that the systems work in the real-world environment.

The final portion of the bill includes financial incentives to encourage provider adoption of HIT. The bill is designed to provide initial funding, through grants, refundable tax credits or revolving loans, to support the ability of physicians and other providers in small practices to acquire electronic medical records. It also provides sustained funding, through changes in Medicare reimbursement policies to support continued use of such technologies, including authorizing an add-on payment to Medicare office visits when supported by such technologies and separate payment for e-mail consultations that meet defined standards of appropriateness. Because health information technology's real value is to support quality improvement in physician practices, the legislation directs the Secretary of the Department Health and Human Services to establish conditions for physicians to be eligible to receive the financial support and Medicare reimbursement incentives, such as by voluntary participation in federal quality improvement projects and in studies on the impact of health information technology on improving patient care. Finally, the bill waives budget neutrality rules for the Medicare reimbursement changes.

"The proposed financial incentives would make it possible for physicians in small practices to invest in the technology and encourage its continued use to improve patient care," said ACP President Charles Francis, MD, FACP. "Before America's patients can truly reap the benefits of health information technology it must be available and working where most people receive care."

Approximately half of the practicing physicians in the United States work in practices with six or fewer physicians. The average cost for an electronic health records (EHR) system is $30,000 per physician. This initial cost, combined with the expense for transferring patient records and maintaining the system, often puts these systems out of the reach of small physician practices.

"We urge Congress to get behind this bill as an effective and cost-effective way to begin improving the quality of patient care through effective use of HIT," said Dr. Francis.

The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States. ACP members include more than 116,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internists specialize in the prevention, detection and treatment of illness in adults.

Jack Pope (202) 261-4556, jpope@acponline.org
Jacquelyn Blaser, (202) 261-4572, jblaser@acponline.org

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