clintonnc.com

Electronic record-keeping brings cost, but possibly incentives, for Health Dept.

By Chris Berendt Staff Writer

April 23, 2014

With everything going electronic, notably records, reports and files at county departments, the Sampson County Health Department is aiming to utilize a state incentive program to offset the cost of the mandated move for keeping N.C. Medicaid health records.


“We’ve got until 2016 (then) we have to have electronic health records,” said health director Wanda Robinson. “DMA (N.C. Division of Medical Assistance) has an incentive grant in place where we can receive $21,250 per practitioner for the first year and then $8,500 for subsequent years, up to six total years. We have to put it in place before the deadline in order to get the six years of payment.”


According to the Division of Medical Assistance, the deadline to participate in the N.C. Medicaid Electronic Health Records Incentive Program is April 30.


As part of the federally-funded Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, the goal of the program is to provide more effective health care by encouraging eligible professionals (EPs) to adopt, implement or upgrade to a certified EHR technology and then to demonstrate meaningful use of that technology. The program is slated to continue through 2021.


EPs may receive incentives over six years of program participation and must begin their first year of participation no later than the program year of 2016.


According to Health Department official Tamra Jones, the incentive potential, with keeping two practitioners on staff, could bring $127,500 to Sampson County over the course of the next six years, which would pay for the new software and nearly all of the anticipated cost for necessary equipment upgrades.


During a recent meeting, Jones took the board through a five-year breakdown of county costs to implement the CureMD software and how incentives could offset those expenditures.


Purchase and installation of the CureMD software would mean a cost of $104,500 over five years, with more than half the cost — $58,900 — in the first year. The next four years would mean an annual cost of $11,400.


“We have looked at two softwares,” Jones said. “CureMD is the most economical we’ve seen. This one is Windows-based and is more user-friendly.”


The other software would also cost about four times as much, Jones noted.


The Medicaid incentive payment, with $21,250 for each of the Health Department’s two practitioners, would total $42,500 for the first year. For each of the next five years, at $8,500 for the two practitioners, incentives would total $17,000 annually.


Robinson and Jones also pointed to needed equipment that would have to accompany an electronic move.


“Currently 75 to 80 percent of our computers are (Windows) XP computers,” said Jones, noting that those are no longer updated and supported. “Those are going to have to be replaced.”


Along with desktop computers, scanners for eligibility, printers/copiers and backup equipment that would bring a total replacement cost of $39,250 to be spread over six years, with more than one-third of that cost — $14,250 — in the first year. The next five years would cost $5,000 annually.


“You have to have a backup on your equipment, especially when we go electronic,” said Jones. “We can fall back on paper, but that would not be ideal at that point, because (record-keeping) needs to be electronic.”


Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.