Health IT

Ohio doctors eligible for low-interest loans in federal EHR push

Three banks are offering low-interest loans to Ohio primary care doctors for purchasing electronic health records.

Three banks are offering low-interest loans to Ohio primary care doctors for purchasing electronic health records.

The offer is connected to a federal push to get Americans’ health records off of paper and onto computers. About $20 billion in federal stimulus dollars will flow to organizations across the country that get hospitals and doctors’ offices ready to adopt electronic medical record technologies over the next few years. Then, plans call for doctors and hospitals be able to share those records over secure networks called health information exchanges (HIEs).

A states-sponsored group, the Ohio Health Information Partnership (OHIP), has received about $43 million in federal funds to help get doctors on electronic health records (EHRs) and HIEs. Individual primary care doctors are eligible for up to $44,000 in government incentives to help them pay for EHR systems.

To receive the full $44,000, doctors must show “meaningful use” of EHRs — a somewhat controversial concept that at a high level involves performing electronic prescribing, sharing lab results electronically and electronically exchanging health information with other medical providers.

OHIP also organized the loan program, which involves the following three banks: Huntington Bank and Fifth Third Bank in Ohio, and U.S. Bank in Minnesota. The banks are offering loans with interest rates between 4.5 and 5.9 percent, according to a statement from OHIP. The EHR loan program is attractive to the banks because the federal incentives reduce the risk of doctors’ failing to repay the debt, said Fred Richards, OHIP’s chief operating officer.

More information about the loan program is available on OHIP’s website.

Part of OHIP’s funding has also gone toward establishing seven so-called “regional extension centers,” which offer free services to physicians, including an assessment of technology needs, and help with staff training, vendor selection, and EHR implementation.

Thus far, about 500 doctors have signed up for the program since late September. OHIP hopes to increase that number to 6,000 by “late spring,” Richards said.

The timeframe “may be ambitious but with the federal money out there, we want to ensure all the physicians in Ohio have the chance to get that incentive money,” he said.

Earlier this year, OHIP selected five “preferred” EHR vendors, which the group says will offer affordable pricing to doctors.