Chapel Hill, N.C. — North Carolina's largest health insurer is part of a $23 million effort to get hundreds of physicians statewide to produce patient records electronically instead of using paper files.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and Chicago-based Allscripts, which creates and markets electronic health records, announced a partnership Wednesday to offer software, training and support to more than 750 physicians, including those who work in 39 free clinics across the state.
"It's meaningful when a family receives vital, faster, better care because vital records are available when doctors need them most wherever a patient might be," Blue Cross President and Chief Executive Brad Wilson said.
Wilson and Allscripts officials said that, when physicians, hospitals and other health care providers can share patient records electronically, quality of care is improved, errors were reduced and wasteful tests can be eliminated. All of that should reduce health care costs, leading to lower insurance premiums, they said.
“It’s not going to happen in 30 days, but we have to start or we will not finish," Wilson said. "The healthier our customers are – the healthier the North Carolina citizenry – the better of we’re all going to be."
Shifting from paper to electronic records can cost as much as $15,000, and many physician practices don't have that much money available. An initiative dubbed the North Carolina Program to Advance Technology for Health, or NC-PATH, will pay all of the costs for the free clinics, including Urban Ministries Open Door Clinic in Raleigh, and will pick up 85 percent of the costs for the other physicians.
Blue Cross is investing $15 million and Allscripts is kicking in $8 million for the initiative.
Under the federal health care reform law, the government is offering subsidies of up to $44,000 over several years to physician practices that convert to electronic medical records.
“There is no patient who receives care just from an individual practice, let alone an individual physician," said Dr. Gary Greenberg, medical director of the Open Door Clinic. "The opportunity to encapsulate, transmit and share information with other operations that are trying to provide care to that same individual, so that each patient in each waiting room does not have to fill out questionnaires, is an opportunity that each of us would recognize is a step forward.”