Doyle proposes $30M plan to convert to electronic medical records

By RYAN J. FOLEY | Associated Press Writer

MADISON, WI — Gov. Jim Doyle said Thursday that he would ask lawmakers to approve a $30 million program to encourage health care providers to install electronic medical records systems.

Doyle proposed a $20 million grant program to help nonprofit organizations transition from less reliable paper documents to technology that he said would reduce medical errors and improve quality. For-profit hospitals and doctors would be eligible for an additional $10 million in tax credits to help cover their costs.

Doyle said the program was part of a five-year strategy to make Wisconsin the first state where patients’ medical histories are readily available at all hospitals and doctors’ offices. He said a fully automated system would increase efficiency and allow doctors to make more informed decisions about treatment.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association said Doyle’s plan would help offset the installation and training costs of the systems, particularly for smaller providers in rural areas.

“Electronic medical records allow accurate medical information to be accessible to health care professionals no matter where the patient is treated,� said the group’s president, Steve Brenton. “Unfortunately, this technology is very expensive.�

The announcement comes as Doyle steps up his focus on health care issues as he begins his second term. On Wednesday, he unveiled a plan to increase the cigarette tax by $1.25 per pack and enact a statewide smoking ban in workplaces, bars and restaurants. He has also called for providing health insurance to all children.

The funding for electronic records will be included in the two-year budget proposal he is expected to announce next month. His plan must be approved by the Republican-controlled Assembly and Democratic-controlled Senate.

Rep. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls and vice chair of the Assembly Health and Health Care Reform Committee, said he would propose a similar plan. His $10 million proposal would give providers tax credits amounting to 50 percent of their expenses associated with adding the technology.

A task force convened by Doyle recommended in December a five-year plan to adopt the technology statewide. It proposed creating regional exchanges to allow patient records to be shared, with an early focus on key information such as a patient’s allergies, medications and past diagnoses.

Doyle said the challenge is figuring out how to make different record systems compatible with one another while protecting patients’ privacy. The governor said he did not favor a state mandate forcing providers to share records. Instead, he said incentives and voluntary cooperation from providers would be key.

Part of the funding for his plan would come from the state’s patient compensation fund, which covers large judgments in medical malpractice suits. Doyle said it was an appropriate use of the money because it would reduce medical errors.
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