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April 8, 2013

Rural doctors unprepared for future, need resources

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Within the next two years, many health care providers will go to paperless records, and rural southern Kentucky doctors are unprepared.  The newest Electronic Health Records (EHR) survey released this week revealed that 63 percent of rural health providers have not installed new EHR software as mandated by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, and 73 percent of doctors said they need outside help.

Richard Murch, IT consultant and EHR specialist authored the survey, which was distributed in January and February of this year.  The survey of 431 rural doctors was commissioned by Stronger Economies Together (SET), a USDA Rural Development program to help southern Kentucky enhance the biomedical and life science field.  

This region is only one of 20 areas in the country to receive this assistance.

According to the survey’s findings, more than 280 small and rural medical practitioners in Kentucky could face financial penalties from Medicare and Medicaid if they do not comply and do not have the new software installed by 2015.  Six medical practices stated they will never install the EHR technology, and out of those six, three said they will close.

“We’ve already identified people that are closing their practices.  We are going to have a shortage of doctors in this region,” Murch said.

Stephen Taylor, development director of the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC), said Kentucky lags behind the nation in the number of physicians per 100,000 people.  

“We have a disconnect and we are in real trouble,” Taylor said.

Thomas Fern, state director of USDA Rural Development, believes the impact will not be as bad as predicted.

“Implementing new programs and practices at first seems overburdensome, until they see the process and how it’s working and, as a result, sometimes many come to the table say, ‘this is not as near as bad as I thought it was going to be.’”

The HITECH Act was created to stimulate the adoption of electronic health records.  Health-care providers are being offered financial incentives for EHR implementation until 2015, after which time penalties may be assessed for failing to use the program.  

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