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Ellmers Examines Barriers in Health IT for Small Medical Practices

Washington, June 2, 2011 -

WASHINGTON, DC—Healthcare and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Renee Ellmers (R-NC) today held a hearing to examine the barriers small medical practices face in adopting health information technology (health IT). In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only an estimated 25 percent of office-based physicians had a fully functional Electronic Health Records (EHR) system, and 10 percent had a basic EHR system. Studies have also shown that there is a substantial digital divide between large and small medical practices.

“As a registered nurse and the wife of a surgeon, I know firsthand how a modern and well-equipped office is vital to the practice of medicine. Patients deserve no less than the best in services and treatment from their physician—and healthcare IT plays a major role in this. Digitizing records can increase efficiency and patient care while decreasing medical errors and paperwork. 

“Small medical practices should not be left in the dark on transitioning to more modern record-keeping practices. We must help to remove the barriers facing small practices so they too are able to offer the latest in health IT for their patients—while ensuring the information is secure and privacy is protected. As Chairwoman of the Healthcare and Technology Subcommittee, I will continue to investigate all avenues to remove federal barriers holding back small practices from moving to the next level in digital record keeping.”

To view Chairwoman Ellmers' opening statement, witness testimony and related hearing documents,
click here.

Notable Witness Quotes:

Sasha Kramer, M.D., in Olympia, WA and testifying on behalf of the American Academy of Dermatology, said, “Over two years ago, I purchased an EHR system at a total cost of $41,349. I received $19,964 through a grant funded by the Washington Health Information Collaborative for Health Information Technology. Using business cash reserves, I paid for the remaining amount, totaling $25,385. As a solo practitioner, I was exclusively responsible for the research, selection, and ultimate implementation process of the EHR vendor and system. I spent over eighty hours selecting the vendor that best fit my practice needs. Once my EHR vendor was selected, an additional eighty hours was dedicated to training. During system implementation, my patient volume was dramatically reduced in order to integrate the EHR system into my practice. Initially, I saw one patient per hour so that the office staff and I could learn how to use the new system. It took about four weeks before I was able to return to my normal routine of 4 to 6 patients per hour… [H]owever, just two years later, I am forced to re-invest in a completely new HIT system. One and a half years after I implemented my original system, I was notified by my software vendor that it had been acquired by another company and that the new vendor’s products would not support my current network platform… [I]mplementing a new system will again involve decreasing the number of patients that I can see for several weeks, further straining dermatology access in Thurston County.”

Farzad Mostashari, M.D., Sc.M., National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC, said, “My experience has been that providers in these kinds of small practices, as well as those in smaller hospitals, are aware of the benefits of health IT, and most would like to replace their paper-based records with a well functioning EHR system. But I also know that small practices and hospitals face unique barriers to successfully adopting EHR systems. These providers usually have less access to capital to spend on infrastructure improvements like health IT, and often lack staff with IT training and don’t have the background or the time to do it themselves. Further, they feel like it is tough to choose from among the EHR systems available in the marketplace and they simply cannot afford to make a mistake in choosing an EHR system. And every provider I know, including the ones in small practices, worry about losing patient trust if the information they maintain in the EHR system does not remain private and secure.”

Andrew Slavitt, Chief Executive Officer of OptumInsight in Eden Prairie, MN, said, “In a world where cloud computing, mobile technology and social networking are democratizing low-cost access to a variety of sophisticated capabilities for individuals and small businesses, if asked, the typical physician may tell you that the technology in their office or hospital has often become a contributor to the challenges they face. This is because from a physicians’ point of view, technology isn’t always a tool, as we're used to thinking of it, but rather the source for another set of compliance requirements, fixed costs, and productivity reducers. Net-net, technology as it is typically fashioned today creates additional burdens which contribute to the wave of issues scaring doctors into salaried jobs in hospitals, which exacerbates the primary care shortage that exists in critical communities in this country. It doesn't need to be this way.”