Insurance giant L.A. Care urges providers to adopt EHRs

Jim O'Neil
A perfect storm is brewing out in the healthcare sector, nudging the industry to adopt more health information technology (HIT) practices and electronic health records (EHRs). Federal incentives, healthcare reform, escalating costs, and consumers' evolving expectations are all piquing simultaneously.

L.A. Care Health Plan, the nation's largest public health plan, is hoping to capitalize on the HIT movement and compel more providers to adopt EHRs. The insurer has invested $7.5 million into HIT initiatives through grants, training, and support over the last five years. "It's a big priority for this organization," Dr. Elaine Batchlor, L.A. Care's chief medical officer, told FierceHealthPayer.

With an eye toward improving efficiency and outcomes in healthcare, L.A. Care's most recent HIT-related project is its health information technology regional extension center (HITEC-LA), which helps small primacy care practices, community clinics, and safety-net providers select, implement, and use EHRs.  

L.A. Care established HITEC-LA in September of last year using federal funds allotted under the healthcare reform law to create meaningful users of EHRs within four years. The insurer already has enrolled 3,000 providers, about 500 of which have implemented a certified EHR system. And six have achieved Stage 1 Meaningful Use of their EHRs.

First, the insurer assesses the provider's needs and readiness through one-on-one consultations. Then, it helps the provider select an EHR vendor, implement the EHR, and redesign workflow to effectively incorporate and use the EHR system.

Batchlor says L.A. Care uses "every conceivable method"-- including mailings, meetings, and even knocking on doors--to reach out to doctors to educate them about the benefits of adopting an EHR system and other HIT tools. It also built upon existing relationships with thousands of its own network providers to get doctors to join their EHR program.  

Providers have overall been receptive to the idea of implementing EHRs. "The environment today is more supportive of taking this step than ever before," Batchlor said, adding that providers need EHRs to deliver healthcare the way that consumers and payers expect in the future. However, many providers still have reservations and concerns about adopting EHRs, primarily because of costs, their own lack of expertise in the HIT area, and the potential disruption to their business.

That's where L.A. Care's regional extension center comes in. "We are designed to help," Batchlor says, although she recognizes the very real concern that EHR implementation disrupts providers' workflow. In fact, the temporary loss of productivity during the initial EHR integration is the biggest challenge to getting providers on board with EHR use. "They have to learn the new system and rework the practice to use it," she said, adding that "it's not difficult, it just takes time and attention--like anything new."

Based on her experience with L.A. Care's HITEC-LA, Batchlor said she learned that providers need technical assistance to implement EHRs. "Providing support for physicians is one key thing we must do if we really want to make healthcare better and more affordable." Providers also need financial incentives to motivate them toward EHR adoption, so insurers should use their position as healthcare payers to incentivize their network providers. "Payers can really provide a compelling business case for doctors to implement EHRs," she said. - Dina (@HealthPayer)