Finally, some doctors get hospital EHR subsidy

March 9, 2007

Eight months after the government relaxed the Stark restrictions on hospital donations of EHRs to physicians, the Memorial Hermann Health Network Providers IPA in Houston, TX, has announced plans to help around 1,300 staff physicians gain access to remotely hosted EHR and practice management software from eClinicalWorks. The IPA?s subsidy, to be funded mostly by the hospital system, will cover about half the cost of the software, says Scott Fenn, CEO of the IPA. This appears to be the largest?and one of the first?examples of hospitals taking advantage of the Stark exception.

ght months after the government relaxed the Stark restrictions on hospital donations of EHRs to physicians, the Memorial Hermann Health Network Providers IPA in Houston, TX, has announced plans to help around 1,300 staff physicians gain access to remotely hosted EHR and practice management software from eClinicalWorks. The IPA's subsidy, to be funded mostly by the hospital system, will cover about half the cost of the software, says Scott Fenn, CEO of the IPA. This appears to be the largest—and one of the first—examples of hospitals taking advantage of the Stark exception.

Memorial Hermann Health Network Providers (MHHNP) includes 3,200 physicians. An MHHNP survey showed that nearly 1,300 of them would like to take advantage of the hospital-backed IPA's offer, Fenn says. Part of their motivation, he explains, is that they want to take part in pay-for-performance and quality improvement programs that depend on EHRs to collect performance data. Only those physicians who obtain EHRs will be eligible for the P4P incentives and for the clinical integration program that the IPA will implement along with the EHR. But this won't happen overnight: It will take three to four years to roll out eClinicalWorks to all of these practices, he says.

Memorial Hermann's IT department will interface "key data points" between the ambulatory EHR and the hospital's Cerner EHR, says Fenn. But Memorial Hermann won't host eClinicalWorks and the physician office data. Instead, MHHNP is considering an offer from Bluegate, a Houston-based IT firm, to host and support the EHR on its own servers. Bluegate is already providing a secure, high-speed network that connects the hospital system to many IPA members, allowing them to view hospital data on their office computers. MHHNP plans to use eClinicalWorks' Electronic Health eXchange to create a community health record that will facilitate secure messaging among providers and between physicians and patients. This portal, however, is still in development, Fenn notes.

While Fenn says the IPA board hasn't yet determined the price point for doctors, Andy Draper, senior vice president of Bluegate, estimates that doctors will pay about $300 per month for the integrated EHR/PM system. That doesn't include the cost of hardware or implementation.

For Westborough, MA-based eClinicalWorks, which is used by many small practices, the Memorial Hermann deal is a major step into the large-group market. But Girish Kumar Navani, CEO of eClinicalWorks, says that his system is built on a "scalable" platform that should have no trouble accommodating a large number of users.