Federal health information technology planners would like to see “private payers” – health insurers – help encourage doctors and hospitals to make more use of electronic health record (EHR) systems.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) mentions private payers several times in the new Federal Health IT Strategic Plan: 2011-2015.

The ONC developed to plan to implement health information technology initiatives included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA), and also in earlier acts, such as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) of 2009.

The underlying goal is to make the U.S. health care much more efficient by 2015.

Officials are hoping they can accomplish that by increasing the percentage of doctors who use standardized EHR systems.

Today, only 25% of U.S. physician offices and 15% of U.S. hospitals make much use of standardized EHR systems.

Some doctors have argued that the risks and costs of shifting to EHR systems far outweigh any possible benefits, but EHR advocates say the U.S. patient information management approach is slow, clumsy and antiquated.

Federal programs are supposed to provide financial incentives for physicians and eligible hospitals that make “meaningful use” of certified EHR systems. The eligibility criteria for the incentives are supposed to get tougher as time goes on.

In the technology strategy plan objective “accelerate adoption of electronic health records,” which is part of the government’s broader objective to “Achieve Adoption and Information Exchange through Meaningful Use of Health IT,” officials mention private payers in Strategy I.A.8.

Agencies should “work with private sector payers and provider groups to encourage providers to achieve meaningful use,” officials say in that section. “The federal government will support the efforts of private payers and private provider groups to encourage their networks of providers to achieve meaningful use. Some major payers have begun to implement incentive programs that will work in parallel with the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs and utilize meaningful use objectives. These programs have the potential to play a role in expanding the number of providers who achieve meaningful use, and may also provide incentives for providers who are not eligible for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.”

Comments on the plan are due April 22.

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