Nancy  Madsen
By Nancy Madsen July 20, 2012

Program in place

When he was running for governor, Bob McDonnell promised to entice physicians to use electronic medical records.

"As governor, Bob McDonnell will work with the health care community to identify and execute incentives to promote increased use of electronic medical records and electronic Medicaid submissions,” his campaign said in a 2009 policy paper on health care.

The benefits of storing medical records on computers have been widely touted. Online records give physicians, especially those providing emergency care, quick access to a patient's records from other practices, reduces the duplication of medical tests and eliminates the problems of reading handwritten notes.

McDonnell has offered financial incentives to medical practices that store electronic medical records, using money from federal stimulus payments.

The 2008 stimulus package included $598 million to establish 70 centers around the nation to help physicians begin electronic record keeping and to set up systems for verifying their use. Virginia received $12.4 million of the money with a goal to enroll 1,800 practices in the state. That goal has been exceeded, according to Bill Hazel, Virginia's secretary of health and human resources.

The stimulus also included $563 million for states to develop computer networks that would allow physicians to share health care records. Virginia got a $10.6 million slice and appropriated a required state share of almost $1.3 million in the 2011-12 budget.

The state's Health Information Technology Advisory Commission, which Hazel chairs, is overseeing development of Virginia"s network.

A private vendor, Central Virginia Health Networks, has been chosen to construct the network, called Connect Virginia. It will not interact with any state government networks or databases and there will be no central depository for information. Each health care provider will maintain its own files and must obtain permission from patients to share the records through the state network.

Medical practices that serve Medicaid patients and tap into the network are eligible for federal incentive payments that are distributed by the state government. The payments to a practice can total up to $63,750 through 2021.

Under another federal program, practices treating Medicare patients can receive as much as $44,000 in incentive payments through 2016 for joining the computer network.

Hazel said Virginia also is developing a central computer index to track individuals through name changes so that patients aren"t confused with others.  

So Virginia has begun an incentive program to encourage increased use of electronic medical records. The incentive money comes from Washington. But Virginia receives the funds because, under McDonnell and former Gov. Tim Kaine, the state made required investments to develop a computer network for medical records.

We rate this a Promise Kept.

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