Do You Need An EMR To Make ACOs Work?

Posted on February 28, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Right now, as things stand, only a small percentage of medical practices have fully implemented EMRs (about 15 percent), research suggests.  But the trend toward integrating physicians in Accountable Care Organizations is moving much faster.

I don’t have stats to hand, but everything I’ve read and heard suggests that the provider community is a lot more comfortable with the ACO concept than EMR adoption.

The thing is, can ACOs advance without higher EMR adoption rates?  I don’t think so.  To my mind, if you want to integrate medical practices and hospitals — with the goal of managing quality jointly — a shared EMR seems virtually indispensable.

During the first wave of ACO adoption, we’re seeing tie-ups between mid-sized to large practices and large health systems.  Those large practices are reasonably likely to have EMR systems in place, and just as importantly, an IT department to support them.

But if ACOs models are to work, they’ll eventually have to embrace smaller practices, which make up the vast majority of U.S. medical groups overall. And if those groups are either EMR-less or just getting started, it’s going to be pretty tough to share value-based payments, coordinate across episodes of care and track quality jointly.

Yes, hospitals can give doctors access to their own, industrial-grade EMRs — and some do — but ultimately, EMR use will have to be part of the smaller practices’ culture for ACOs to work.

And while medical practices will understand ACOs, particularly if they’ve been through lots of fashionable hospital-practice partnership models, EMRs will still be tough to swallow.

So, ACO backers, do you think you can move ahead if your physician partners aren’t EMR-connected and savvy?  Or are we looking at a big problem here?