How do you persuade docs to make the switch to EHRs?

If you build it, will they (the physicians) come? It's a whole new field of dreams for hospitals--and the stakes are high. As hospitals spend millions on obtaining and installing electronic health records (EHRs) systems--with an eye toward getting a piece of the government's $27 billion in incentives for meeting Meaningful Use provisions--many are faced with the same quandary: how do they get physicians and other healthcare providers on board to adopt and effectively use the EHRs?

In a recently released survey from Dell of 150 hospital execs taken last fall, this issue seemed to be on their minds: when asked what technology challenges their hospitals faced, 79 percent said, "training clinicians and hospital staff in order to achieve process improvements and time savings." This response was second only to being able to afford and maintain the technology (cited by 85 percent).

Getting physicians and healthcare providers--many of whom are skeptical about the ability of EHRs to improve productivity or patient care--to work with them, hospitals are taking a variety of tacks, including providing training anytime day or night, converting vacant buildings into training facilities, and using computer programs to get physicians up to speed, the Wall Street Journal reports this week.

Some hospitals are looking for creative ways to sweeten the deal to get physicians online. For instance, Main Line Health, a non-profit health system serving the greater Philadelphia region, is covering upfront license fees and arranging for training--and offering fast-track implementation that get practices online in less than 12 weeks from contract signing.

In turn, providers will pay Main Line Health back for the initial training, and will repay the health system for the licenses when, and if, they receive incentive payments for demonstrating Meaningful Use.

No doubt, the interest is there: Recent statistics from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT show that more than 45,000 physicians and hospitals have sought information or registration assistance from the 62 federally funded regional assistance centers set up around to give free hands-on support.

That's a start, but many physicians and providers remain skeptical or unsure--like 56-year-old Maryland-based internist Jonathan Plotsky, quoted this week by the Washington Post.

"I'm waiting to see what will work for people," Plotsky said. "The cost is prohibitive. It won't be any more revenue, and it will change the way I do things."

So where to go with this field of dreams of a creating and growing EHR system? Rather than hoping, it will take some action by the deeper pockets--the hospitals and health systems--to give some financial and educational assistance up front--for some return down the line. And then maybe finally they'll all come. - Jan