U.S. to Give Doctors Free Patient Health Record Software

22 Jul ’05

In order to encourage the adoption of electronic health records, the U.S. Medicare program is planning to give doctors free copies of a version of the Vista health records software. Details in this NYT article. Gist:

There is no one in medicine who does not consider it both crucial and long overdue to have electronic records in doctor’s offices and hospitals.

With electronic files, patient records are not stuck on pieces of paper in endless files, but are on a screen at the touch of a key. The computers alert doctors to do medical tests and avert errors by warning when they write a prescription for the wrong drug or the wrong dose. Patients can often see their own files and even make their own appointments, online, from their homes.

But most doctors have balked. The systems cost tens of thousands of dollars, and doctors worry that the companies selling them and providing support will go out of business. Many use computers to file health insurance claims, but only 20 percent to 25 percent of the nation’s 650,000 licensed doctors outside the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs are using electronic patient records.

Now, however, Medicare, which says the lack of electronic records is one of the biggest impediments to improving health care, has decided to step in. In an unprecedented move, it said it planned to announce that it would give doctors – free of charge – software to computerize their medical practices. An office with five doctors could save more than $100,000 by choosing the Medicare software rather than buying software from a private company, officials say.

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