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Columbus – Piles of paperwork, misplaced paper charts and time spent faxing and phoning for test and lab results can often bog down clinical staff and leave less time for patients. Services offered by the Ohio Health Information Partnership streamlined the switch from paper files to electronic health records for Canton's Little Flower Family Practice over the past nine months
"Taking good care of patients these days can be labor intensive. There's a large amount of data that needs to be managed," said Dr. James Johns. "I feel that in becoming a medical home, having a good electronic medical system can assimilate and organize all that data. What I'm hopeful for is that by having a good system that keeps track of this large amount of information, it will allow me the freedom to be a doctor again. I want to spend more time with my patients."

Dr. Johns took advantage of the free services and tools offered by the Ohio Health Information Partnership, which oversees seven regional partners and funnels funding from the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology to those partners to provide free consultant services to physicians.

"We simplify the transition from paper files to electronic health records for physicians and staff," said Dan Paoletti, chief executive officer of the partnership. "We streamline the process that helps physicians prepare for an EHR, get financing, evaluate the practice's readiness, and select vendors using criteria created by experts," said Dan Paoletti, chief executive officer of the partnership.

Little Flower received free consultation from the Northeast Central Ohio Regional Extension Center, prepared for the selection of an electronic system using a free Welch Allyn Prep Select tool, took advantage of a loan program offered by Key Bank, and chose e-MDs, one of the partnership's preferred vendors.

"This is a case where the physician, his office administrator and the staff were already enthusiastic and ready for EHRs," said Jim Carroll, director of the Northeast Central Ohio Regional Extension Center. "They needed help in evaluating which system would work for their needs, and we gave them training and guidance. They were able to take advantage of all aspects of the program."

Bruce Kleaveland, a consultant who helped develop the tool for Welch Allyn and has been assisting practices and training REC staff across Ohio, said this structured guidance helps practices focus on what they're trying to accomplish and how an electronic health record system will affect the staff workflow. "This tool helps organize what can be a very complicated process into something that's pretty easy to process in a step-by-step systematic fashion," Kleaveland said. "So not only the preparation process but the decision-making process becomes a lot easier and less time-consuming."

Once Dr. Johns and his wife and office administrator, Donna, went through the readiness process, they chose e-MDs, which specializes in small physician practices.

"With our founder and current CEO both being physicians who are actively involved in product development, we are acutely aware that it is vital for a system to be highly usable at the point of care," said Patrick Hall, executive vice president of business development. "The rubber meets the road at the point of care where efficient data entry will drive workflow, patient quality and business efficiency."

The practice management portion of the system is up and running as of June 24, and the full EHR system will go live during the third week of July, Donna Johns said.

The federal program has allotted Ohio 6,000 potential spots for free services to eligible physicians. More than 4,000 spots have been filled. In 2009, Ohio received $26.8 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding to create the Ohio Health Information Partnership.

Physicians also can be eligible for federal incentives from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare once they use an electronic health record system in meaningful ways according to federal guidelines. Those who serve Medicaid patients can receive up to $63,750 over six years. Those who serve Medicare patients can receive up to $44,000 in 2011 and 2012, with less in the subsequent years until 2015, when the program ends.

"We will attest to meaningful use for the Medicare incentive before the end of this year," Donna Johns said. "The $44,000 from the government will not cover all of the costs. A practice should not do it for the money, but because it will help them improve the care they give the patient."

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