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Live from MGMA: What's happening with Stark?

October 19, 2008
by kate
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This weekend, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) conference kicked off in San Diego, a city that I had never visited until now. Since the extent of my knowledge of the city came from the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, I was thrilled to get to see it firsthand. So far, I’m very impressed — with both the city and the conference.

One of the hottest topics at MGMA, not surprisingly, is the potential role of the modified Stark Laws in accelerating EMR adoption among physician practices. Specifically, there’s a lot of discussion around the findings of a study recently released by the New England Journal of Medicine entitled, “Electronic Health Records in Ambulatory Care — A National Survey of Physicians.” According to the report, just four percent of physicians report having a fully functional EMR in place, while 13 percent say they have a basic system.

The statistics are telling; EMR adoption among physician practices is low and Stark is not having the intended effect in driving the numbers upward. Things need to change, and many are putting the onus on hospital executives to light the proverbial fire. But given the complexities involved in an initiative that unites hospitals with practices, that task is easier said than done.

According to Justin Barnes, vice president of marketing and government affairs at Greenway Technologies, the challenge for hospital executives lies in providing solutions that enable both interoperability and usability at the point of care. Barnes, who has testified numerous times before Congress, says the problem is that there isn’t enough change management taking place. He also pins the blame on a lack of standards harmonization.

Others, meanwhile, believe that physicians are often resistant to using a hospital’s EMR system, which presents another barrier for CIOs. To that end, McKesson has developed a Physician Alliance Program in which they are leveraging their sizeable customer base to connect hospital executives with physician practices that already use a McKesson system and link them together.

That solution is fine for companies like McKesson that already have a large footprint, but what about smaller companies? And what about the many situations in which hospitals and practices utilize different EMRs, or cases where physician practices just aren’t on board with electronic records for whatever reason? In these situations, what is a CIO to do? Hopefully the answers will come soon, because there are certainly a lot of questions.

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