Can medical societies take the HIT lead?

December 22, 2006

The government's DOQ-IT program—in which Quality Improvement Organizations in every state are providing free EHR consulting services to a limited number of practices—has received a lot of voluntary assistance from state medical and specialty societies. The societies helped the QIOs meet their CMS-mandated goal of signing up at least 5 percent of primary-care practices in each state. Some of them, including those in Florida, Texas, and Maryland, sponsored health IT fairs to educate physicians and put them in touch with EHR vendors.

The government's DOQ-IT program—in which Quality Improvement Organizations in every state are providing free EHR consulting services to a limited number of practices—has received a lot of voluntary assistance from state medical and specialty societies. The societies helped the QIOs meet their CMS-mandated goal of signing up at least 5 percent of primary-care practices in each state. Some of them, including those in Florida, Texas, and Maryland, sponsored health IT fairs to educate physicians and put them in touch with EHR vendors.

But the Florida Academy of Family Physicians has leaped ahead of the pack by becoming a subcontractor to FMQAI, the state's QIO. With funding from CMS, the FAFP is using local family physicians as consultants to help guide 74 practices through the EHR adoption process. That means assessing their needs, analyzing their workflows, helping them choose the right EHRs, and advising them on contracting and implementation.

Why is the medical society doing this? Tad Fisher, the FAFP's executive vice president, explains that the chapter was already promoting EHRs heavily to its members when the QIO came along and asked for its help in recruitment. As practices were signed up, FMQAI started to provide them with consulting services; but after a few consultants left the organization, the medical society wondered whether it couldn't do just as good a job itself with family practices. Now the two teams are working side by side; the QIO itself is helping 183 practices, including 57 that already have EHRs but aren't using them to their full potential, says Diane Chronis, FMQAI's physician office project director.

The FAFP's approach is valuable, says Fisher, because doctors who've already adopted EHRs "can convey their thoughts and experiences to doctors who are now going through that process. It's really effective when one family physician looks at another family physician and says, 'I've been there, I know what you're going through, and here's what I did to get through it and make the right decision.'"

FP Bernd Wollschlaeger of North Miami Beach, who has taught at the chapter's EHR workshops, is one of these consultants. "I understand what a family physician looks for in his daily workflow, and where the obstacles and problems are," he says. "Having done it myself, I can help another physician do it without repeating the mistakes I made."