Feds outline plan for EMRs

Responding to a call by President Bush to provide Americans with electronic medical records (EMRs) within a decade, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report outlining a broad strategy for accomplishing that goal.

The strategy has four aims: (1) to bring EMRs directly into clinical practice by providing incentives for health-care providers to change current practices and reducing the risk of investing in information technology; (2) to create an "interoperable infrastructure" that will allow health information to become portable, moving with the patient from one point of care to another; (3) to promote patients' involvement in their own care; and (4) to provide a better means of monitoring public health, measuring quality of care, and bringing medical research to the bedside.

Released in July, "The Decade of Health Information Technology" report notes that implementing modern information technology in health-care settings "has the potential to transform the delivery of health care for the better." The report says that using this technology would, among other things, reduce medical errors and save about $140 billion a year, or nearly 10% of total U.S. health spending.

The report acknowledges that incentives will be needed to promote the adoption of EMRs in health-care settings. Providing low-rate loans to clinicians and providers, offering Medicare reimbursement for specific EMR use, and creating exceptions to physician self-referral and anti-kickback statutes are some of the incentives under consideration.

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