Legislation seeks to help small practices with IT costs

By Molly Merrill
10:02 AM

Legislation was introduced during a hearing of the House Committee on Small Business' Subcommittee on Regulations and Healthcare earlier this week to help small medical practices in adopting healthcare IT.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.) introduced the Small Business Health Information Technology Financing Act, designed to help providers overcome the financial barriers to implementing healthcare technology.

"This bill will establish a new loan program at the Small Business Administration designed specifically for doctors who want to invest in health IT," she said at the hearing. "Ultimately small and solo health practitioners are small businesses. Similar to small businesses everywhere, one of their biggest challenges is accessing affordable capital. This legislation will help them find that capital."

A report by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, supported by The California Endowment, shows that although small practices provide nearly three quarters of all ambulatory care visits in the United States, many lack the resources to improve the quality of care, implement electronic health records or serve an increasingly diverse population.

"Our research shows that small practices are willing to change and adapt their practices to best meet their patients' needs, be more accountable, improve quality and reduce disparities. However they will need significant support," said Margaret E. O'Kane, the NCQA's president. "When considering how to implement health reform that will work for America, small practices need special attention."

NCQA report identified specific ways to address the challenges facing small practices, including:

  • Training and development for physicians and other staff on cultural competence, language needs and quality improvement;
  • Tools, templates and information resources such as patient education materials in various languages, clinical practice guidelines and templates for organizing medical information;
  • Shared services or staff to support interpreter needs, quality improvement initiatives, data management and technical support; and,
  • Networking opportunities and learning collaboratives to hear from other practices, stakeholders and local, state and national policy makers.

“By encouraging smaller practitioners to adopt electronic health records and health IT, we can reduce costs for the overall healthcare system,” Dahlkemper said. “However, to achieve this goal, physicians need to access the capital to make the initial investment in the technology infrastructure.”