Wellpoint doles out $40 million to outfit network providers

By Patty Enrado
12:00 AM

Wellpoint's initiative to provide its network providers with free information technology - at a retail cost of $40 million - won the insurer a lot of attention. But industry experts say how Wellpoint spends the money is just as important as how much it spends.

By offering either a prescription-improvement or a paperwork-reduction package to its nearly 19,000 providers in California, Georgia, Missouri and Wisconsin, Wellpoint hopes to improve connectivity in the medical community, improve patient safety and service, and reduce the cost and burden of paperwork.

Ron Ponder, CIO of Well-point, said, "This is a totally open system that is open to all our doctors' patients. It's for everyone."

The initiative, which provides either a hand-held electronic prescribing unit or a Dell computer for the electronic submission of claims, was designed to move the medical community into the digital world, not to reward good outcomes.

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With the help of its technology partners - Microsoft, Dell and Cap Gemini Ernest & Young - Ponder said that Wellpoint hopes to turn its providers into technology adopters.

Peter Waegermann, executive director for Boston-based Medical Records Institute, said, "It's one major step towards achieving electronic health records implementation."

Waegermann said that it's still questionable whether Wellpoint will succeed just by handing over de-vices to providers.

"We wish they would go beyond that and provide continuity of care records to help the workflow," he said.

While Waegermann said that the jury is still out whether competing health plans will follow suit, overall it's a good attempt at creating an electronic infrastructure.

Jeffrey Klein, a Westlake Village, Calif.-based physician who is part of Wellpoint's network, said, "I think that this is a first step. It will be particularly useful for those MDs who are computerphobic. However, it seems to be less helpful to those of us who are already working on this stuff. I have a hand-held computer, though I don't directly prescribe electronically."

Klein added, "I have greater overall hopes for what the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) are doing, in particular their partners for patients program.

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