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Georgia builds statewide EHR implementation program

Electronic health records implementation is the key for a statewide, interoperable medical information system, according to Georgia’s health commissioner.

The state of Georgia is building a program to help Medicaid providers there with electronic health record (EHR) implementation so they can become part of a statewide interoperable medical information system.

The Georgia Department of Community Health will use a $3.1 million federal grant to create its State Medicaid Health Information Technology Plan. The money comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009’s incentive program for Medicaid.

Another component of ARRA includes the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which will provide financial incentives to providers that implement health IT according to “meaningful use” criteria. Under HITECH, providers will have to meet adoption milestones during the next five years or lose the financial incentives.

Georgia’s Medicaid plan fits into the state’s broader goals of health IT and EHR implementation, according to Rhonda Medows, a physician who is commissioner of the state health department. Georgia has a Health Information Technology and Transparency Plan that aims to promote health IT adoption among all providers in the state. “The funding made available to the state to devise a plan that specifically targets increasing adoption among Medicaid providers will help us achieve our previously set goal,” Medows said in an email response.

The grant covers planning activities for the Medicaid program; it does not include the EHR implementation incentives that will be allocated to doctors. The health department will work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to determine that funding. “We are still waiting on guidance and information from HHS regarding the actual incentive funds that will be made available to the state,” Medows said.

It requires community commitment and stakeholder buy-in to fully deploy an interoperable health information exchange.

Rhonda Medows, commissioner, Georgia Department of Community Health

Georgia has been working on interoperable health IT for several years. The health department has a Health Information Technology and Transparency Advisory Board consisting of provider, consumer, public and payer representatives who advise the state on electronic health records adoption. In addition, there are partnerships among health care stakeholders for EHRs and health information exchange activities.

Part of the challenge of establishing health IT and EHR implementation is how long it takes, Medows said. “The benefits outweigh the challenges once the system is fully operational,” but “teams need to be flexible and committed to project completion.

“It requires community commitment and stakeholder buy-in to fully deploy an interoperable health information exchange,” she said.

While providers initially have shown reluctance in purchasing EHRs, the planned incentives through ARRA are beginning to have an effect on doctor adoption of health IT, said Jack Chapman, an ophthalmologist and immediate past president of the Medical Association of Georgia. “The rate is going up.”

Chapman sits on the state health IT advisory council and has been using electronic systems since 1997. He champions the use of IT in physician practices. While there is a learning curve for doctors, as well as up-front and ongoing costs and interruptions in workflow, health IT ultimately benefits practices, Chapman said. “They’ll be able to provide care in an efficient manner.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Jean DerGurahian, News Writer.

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