Survey shows most rural doctors in Southern Kentucky aren’t ready for electronic health records; grant will help them switch

A recent survey found that 63 percent of rural health providers in Southern Kentucky have not installed electronic health records software, so more than 280 of the small and rural doctor practices surveyed could face financial penalties from Medicaid and Medicare if they do not install it by 2015. Federal grant money will help them make the switch.

Many rural Kentucky providers are near retirement and are deciding between making the necessary investment of capital and personnel that is required to make the switch to electronic records or to just close their practice, according to a release from Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp., which led the effort to get the grant

Decisions to close practices and to avoid using electronic health records could be problematic to rural areas in Kentucky, since the state already has doctor shortages, especially in rural areas. If the state expands the Medicaid program under federal health reform, the number of insured patients could increase much more than the number of physicians in Southern Kentucky, an area where many people are uninsured.

“Large hospitals in the region such as ARH, Baptist Regional and others have successfully installed this software, and they are using the system with quality results,” Richard Murch, an IT consultant who specializes in electronic health records and is working on the project, said in teh release. But he said the process is complicated and requires extra staff and resources that are sometimes difficult to find in the area.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has funded a project called Stronger
Economies Together to improve the biomedical and life-science practices in the region. SET plans to provide resources and training to help providers and health systems make a successful switch to electronic health records, which the release said could create about 100 jobs over the next few years.

The survey showed 73 percent of doctors’ practices have asked for help transferring to and using electronic records. “SET reviewed industry sector research to determine health care and health related businesses as the fastest growing business segment of our rural economy,” said Jerry Rickett, president and CEO of Kentucky Highlands. For more information about SET and its partner programs, click here.

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