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ACP Supports New Bill to Promote Adoption of Health Information Technology

April 19, 2007

(Washington) - "The American College of Physicians (ACP) is greatly encouraged by the introduction of the 'National Health Information Incentive Act of 2007'," ACP President Lynne M. Kirk, MD, FACP said today. "Increased use of health information technology (HIT) could greatly benefit health care in the U.S. through improved patient care, reduction in medical errors, higher efficiency, and potential long run cost savings."

The bill, introduced by Representatives Charles Gonzalez (D-TX) and Phil Gingrey (R-GA), 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.

"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," continued Dr. Kirk. "Before America's patients can truly reap the benefits of health information technology it must be available and working where most people receive care."

In surveys of ACP members involved in direct patient care after training, approximately 20 percent report they are in solo practice, and 50 percent are in practices of five or fewer physicians. According to "The Value of Electronic Health Records in Solo or Small Group Practices," an article in the September/October 2005 issue of Health Affairs magazine, the acquisition cost for an electronic health records (EHR) system averaged $44,000 per physician. This initial cost, combined with the ongoing average annual cost of $8,500 per physician to maintain the system, often puts these systems out of the reach of small physician practices.

HIT systems include interoperable applications such as electronic health records, electronic prescribing systems, evidence based-clinical decision support software, and patient registries. The 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.

The bill includes one-time financial incentives to encourage provider adoption of HIT through grants, loans, and tax deductions to support the ability of physicians and other providers in small practices to acquire electronic medical records. But more importantly it provides sustained funding, through changes in Medicare reimbursement, to support continued use of such technologies by 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 HIT'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.

"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. Kirk.

The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States. ACP members include 120,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internists specialize in the prevention, detection and treatment of illness in adults.

David Kinsman, (202) 261-4554, dkinsman@acponline.org
Jacquelyn Blaser, (202) 261-4572, jblaser@acponline.org

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