Health plans offer free technology to MDs: What's the catch?

February 1, 2006

More and more health plans are taking up the onus of getting information technology into physicians' practices. They are offering free or subsidized e-prescribing or electronic medical record (EMR) systems to physicians in the hopes that the effort will ultimately save money and improve quality of care.

More and more health plans are taking up the onus of getting information technology into physicians' practices. They are offering free or subsidized e-prescribing or electronic medical record (EMR) systems to physicians in the hopes that the effort will ultimately save money and improve quality of care.

So what's the catch? Physicians must use the technology that is offered to them. Depending on the contract they sign with the health plans, physicians must enter specific data, participate in the evaluation of the technology's use, and pay ongoing maintenance costs or a subscription fee after a certain period.

To make the involvement of health plans in these offerings more palatable to physicians, some provide funds to adopt the technology through a third party such as a foundation. For example, Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Massachusetts donated $50 million to the nonprofit Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative to pay for EMR systems, hardware, training, and support costs for physicians' offices for 3 years. In turn, physicians agree to participate in an evaluation of the technology. Once physicians understood that the collaborative was not part of a Blue Cross company-and that their data would not be shared with insurers-physicians were more willing to give it a try.

"If it's something that they feel they can live with and that doesn't hurt patients or interfere with the doctor-patient relationship, then I think it's fine [to accept it]," he added.