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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–Partners in Care (PIC), an independent healthcare practitioner’s association that services New Brunswick and the surrounding area, and NJ-HITEC, a program run out of NJIT that aids doctors and hospitals with the modernization of health records, announced a partnership yesterday which will bring NJ-HITEC’s assistance to the 450 member PIC network.
The network’s mission is to reduce overall healthcare costs and prevent emergency room visits, thereby reducing the ultimate burden that all of society must shoulder.
One way PIC helps people avoid hospital and emergency room visits is by providing physicians with funding for what they call “care coordination.” This program includes coordinating with primary care doctors, specialists, and follow ups to make sure patients are receiving the necessary preventative care to keep them out of the emergency room.
The partnership with NJ-HITEC provides the PIC network with increased access to Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems, which consequently qualify private practices and hospitals for federal funding, and furthing improving the quality of care.
William O’Byrne, executive director of NJ-HITEC, said the program began in 2010 after NJIT was awarded a $24 million contract to “assist 5,000 primary care providers to become meaningful users of Electronic Health Records.”
O’Byrne said NJ-HITEC exceeded their initial goal and, as one of 62 regional extension centers nationwide, continues to work to implement EHR systems and explore long term sustainability models.
EHR systems streamline the gathering and tracking of patient data, eventually building a comprehensive profile that can be utilized by any doctor anywhere at any time. ‘Meaningful use’ is the legislative qualifications that a practice or hospital must meet before qualifying for federal money.
“Meaningful use is an on-going process that will last several years,” he said. “Doctors will qualify for incentive funding for reaching certain milestones.” Incentive funding is provided for under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
These ‘milestones’ are set in terms of stages. Meaningful use stage 1 is examined in regards to the purchase and implementation of costly EHR systems. NJ-HITEC assists with this process and, when the criteria is met, the practices may qualify for up to $22,000 in federal funding, O’Byrne said.
Stage 2 requires fulfilling “many measures more” than in stage 1 – O’Byrne said this is more complex and time consuming, and that data must be gathered on patients for 90 days before practices can qualify for another $8,000 in federal funding.
O’Byrne added stage 3 is soon to come, but the Department of Health and Human Services has yet to announce the specifics of the criteria.
“[EHR] is a much better way of practicing medicine,” he said. “This is the kind of transformation in medical practice that makes it possible for prescriptions to be waiting for you at the pharmacy, eliminates lengthy referrals, and allows the sharing of medical records electronically between hospitals, emergency rooms, and laboratories.”
These federal incentives were applied in order to encourage the modernization of healthcare practices in order to cut down on future costs and improve the overall quality of the services they provide.
“[This is] how you move a paper based system into an electronic based system,” he said, likening the shift to the proliferation of ATMs in the early days of automated banking.
Ralph Tang, CEO of Partners in Care, said PIC is New Jersey’s oldest independent practitioner’s association, owned by their members, committed to finding ways to provide “better health, better care, at a lower cost.”
Tang said PIC is mainly in central New Jersey and offers assistance to their members in handling the comprehensive, and sometimes confusing, healthcare reforms.
“We believe that technology is becoming essential in the delivery of care on a broad basis,” he said. “The use of data about a patient, gathered from different sources, physicians, and providers, would be almost impossible to access using manual processes.”
This is where EHR comes in. These systems, Tang said, allows medical practitioners to do their jobs without being “bogged down” by the cumbersome task of processing vast data, in some cases from multiple sources.
“In our network we have a spectrum of providers, some of whom are more technologically sophisticated than others,” he said. “Some do not have EHR systems, for example. So by partnering with NJ-HITEC, we are saying that we will help these providers transition into a more effective use of technology.”
Tang added that NJ-HITEC’s experience in aiding medical practitioners to attest to meaningful use in order to gain federal funding is a welcome boon.
PIC and NJ-HITEC have been working together informally prior to yesterday’s announcement, a period which Tang said proved the organizations have “a shared passion” in providing efficient, quality healthcare.
The partnership, Tang said, gives him confidence that independent private practices will be able to stay that way – “to thrive and survive.”
Some PIC network members contacted NJ-HITEC prior to the partnership, Tang said, resulting in the securing of a total of $5 million in federal funding by implementing EHR systems.
“We are very excited about the partnership and are looking forward to working together,” Tang said. “We believe that together we can deliver better health and better care for the patients that we serve.”