Health plans and providers announce plans to encourage shift to paperless medical records

A broad array of healthcare plans, providers and professional licensing bodies on Thursday announced a slew of initiatives aimed at getting hospitals and physicians' offices to adopt electronic health records.

These include: zero interest financing and other financial incentives for physician practices to purchase records systems; training and education to put them in place; recognizing providers who have adopted electronic health records through premium designations; and eventually requiring that providers shift to paperless records in order to stay in insurance networks and retain their certification. The new initiatives were announced at a meeting organized by the policy journal Health Affairs and the Health Industry Forum at Brandeis University. 

Last year's recovery act created incentives for healthcare providers to shift to paperless medical records. The law also penalizes the providers by cutting their Medicare payments if they haven't made the shift by 2015.

"When we saw this before, yes some of the physicians adopted the tool, but they didn't necessarily use it in the routine practice of medicine," said Charles Kennedy, vice-president for Health Information Technology at WellPoint Inc. "And so the importance of aligning our programs behind the federal programs is that we now are all saying the same thing."

The Obama administration applauded the commitments in a joint statement by David Blumenthal, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, and Marilyn Tavenner, principal deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"The public and private sectors can and must collaborate in furthering the goal of creating a 21st century electronic health information system in the United States," they said. "For that reason we are pleased and encouraged by today's announcement of significant initial steps by organizations across the spectrum of health care to support [the] goal of furthering the meaningful use of certified [electronic health records]."