I’ve blogged before about the importance of decreasing the digital divide in this country in order to truly move healthcare interoperability forward. As I mentioned last month, “Only those patients who have access to these digital healthcare technologies will begin to clamor for them at their next doctors’ visits. Only patients’ whose doctors in turn have reached out to them via email, text or social media regarding the switch to electronic medical records, development of health information exchange and the benefits to care these will hopefully bring will be ready and willing to go with the digital flow.”
When news came across my somewhat cluttered desk of Emdeon’s initiative to provide electronic health record (EHR) technology to physicians in New Jersey’s underserved communities, I first thought, “Yes! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Then I put on my journalist/blogger hat and thought, “Will this truly change anything in these particular communities, or is this just good PR?”
A quick bit of background: Emdeon is partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Minority Health, New Jersey Health Information Technology Extension Center (NJ-HITEC), the state’s REC, and the HIMSS Latino Community. Through the initiative, Emdeon will donate Emdeon Clinician licenses to 100 healthcare providers who practice within medically underserved areas and/or healthcare provider shortage areas, as designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), according to a recent Emdeon press release. The company will waive the license fee for these physicians for one year.
The same press release also mentions “EHR adoption is lower among providers serving Hispanic patients who are uninsured or rely on Medicaid, and is lower among providers serving uninsured, non-Hispanic black patients than among providers serving privately insured, non-Hispanic white patients.”
The initiative sounds like a great idea, but the one-year stipulation got me thinking (a bad habit, I know). What will these physicians, who presumably can’t really afford this technology now, do after their year is up? I reached out to Miriam Paramore, Senior Vice President – clinical and government services at Emdeon, to learn more about the ins and outs of the program.
How did the initiative come about?
Miriam Paramore: During the fall of 2010, leaders from the Office of Minority Health (OMH) and Health Information Technology issued a public, written request to health IT vendors, asking them to pay special attention to healthcare providers within underserved communities. This initiative is known as The Alliance to Reduce Health IT Disparities. Emdeon is serving as a private partner with the OMH to offer access to health IT products and services to providers within undeserved communities in New Jersey. We were thrilled to volunteer and to work within these communities.
Has Emdeon ever done anything like this before?
We’re happy to do part of this effort with HHS and it is the first time we’ve partnered with them. We have great empathy for the challenges of the physicians in underserved communities and we want to help.
What sort of challenges do small physician practices in underserved communities typically encounter?
In addition to challenges like poverty and health disparities amongst their patient population, providers in underserved communities and smaller practice offices face expensive costs associated with on-boarding EHRs. Emdeon created the Emdeon Clinician solution as an affordable EHR “lite” solution for these small practice physicians or those working in underserved communities. They now have an affordable, easy-to-use solution that will help them to qualify for federal HITECH stimulus dollars without unnecessary disruption and expense of a full-blown EHR system.
How will you work with these 100 physician practices to ensure they are able to continue using the donated EHR after the year-long license expires?
Once the 12-month period expires, providers will be able to continue using Emdeon Clinician for only $99 per provider, per month. Emdeon usually has a $500 implementation and training fee [that, for this program,] has been discounted to a one-time fee of $200 for the providers participating in this project. This is a considerable discount and the fee would only have to be paid once. We will begin outreach to these providers in advance of the expiration date so they are aware of the opportunity to remain with Emdeon Clinician for the low fee following the initial 12-month period.
How will Emdeon work with NJ-HITEC and the HIMSS Latino Community throughout this year to ensure that these practices receive continued training and support?
Emdeon has taken the lead with managing this initiative between all partners with monthly meetings to monitor progress. We have a dedicated project manager, who has mapped a process with the internal team to assist with implementing these physicians as soon as possible. Our custom phone number (1-855-840-7120) connects interested providers directly with a dedicated clinical sales executive who can assist them throughout the enrollment process.
The NJ-HITEC and HIMSS Latino partners are assisting in the recruitment of providers who practice within medically underserved areas for this program from their vast networks across New Jersey communities. These partners are working cooperatively with Emdeon to create a strategy that focuses upon identifying and recruiting providers within underserved communities who are willing to adopt EHRs, especially those interested in qualifying for federal incentive dollars.
How many practices do you anticipate being eligible, and how many do you expect will apply?
While we aren’t sure how many will apply, the HHS OMH recognized that the counties of Camden, Essex and Passaic have the largest percentage of underserved communities. Through our collaborative efforts with the OMH, HIMSS Latino and NJ HITEC, we hope to reach many of those physicians within those counties to take advantage of the 12-month program.
How will Emdeon and its partners determine if this program is a success?
Together with our partners, we believe success will be donating all 100 licenses to providers in underserved communities. The reporting element of this project will help OMH understand the progress of EHR adoption in the context of how long implementation takes in its entirety.
So it seems that Emdeon and its partners certainly have their ducks in a row when it comes to aiding and abetting these physicians before, during and even after the program is technically over. I’ll be interested to see if this model will, in fact, be successful, and if it can be supported in other underserved areas across the nation.
For more information on participating in the program, check out: http://www.emdeon.com/newjersey/