Displaced doctors get offer of free technology

Companies are donating software, hardware and services to practices affected by recent hurricanes.

By Tyler Chin — Posted Oct. 24, 2005

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The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society has begun soliciting donations from members interested in donating software, hardware and technology services to practices that were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Apart from that effort, some technology companies also are individually giving technology at no cost for up to a year to physicians who were impacted by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita or both.

HIMSS' offer applies only to practices affected by Katrina. "What we're doing is we're identifying paper-based practices in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama that were decimated by the hurricane who are interested in being reconstituted, so to speak, with electronic health records," said Pat Wise, vice president for electronic health record initiatives at HIMSS.

The Chicago-based industry group, which is working with quality improvement organizations in the Gulf Coast region to identify practices that want EHRs, also is asking its 275 corporate members -- as well as nonmembers -- to donate physician practice management software, hardware, and connectivity and consulting services, Wise said.

At press time, several HIMSS members had expressed interest in donating EMR and practice management software, Wise said.

Doctors will get the initial technology and services at no cost, she said. "Now will it be free for years to come? I don't know. That's one of the other pieces we will have to work on. It might be free or it might not be free. We're not even speculating on that yet because we just don't know."

Whatever the answer turns out to be, financial gain is not what is motivating HIMSS or its members, she said. "The companies that are donating are donating out of the goodness of their hearts because they see the need. They know that there are physicians who are practicing currently right now in Louisiana and Mississippi in almost third-world conditions."

Those conditions have led some companies to offer technology at no cost to doctors for limited periods of time. For example, Chicago-based Allscripts LLC is offering free electronic prescribing software for one year to physicians treating those displaced by the hurricanes.

Allscripts will charge physicians its regular rate for the second year unless they opt out, said spokeswoman Lisa Johnson. However, the company has no expectation that doctors will use it after its one-year offer expires, she said.

Two other companies -- MD Synergy Inc. and ProxyMed Inc. -- have partnered to offer free Web-based physician practice management software and electronic claims processing services through the end of March 2006 to practices affected by Katrina and Rita. If doctors opt to use the services after March, they will pay $200 to $300 monthly per doctor for MD Synergy's billing system and 10 cents to 15 cents per claim to ProxyMed. Doctors who accept the offer will not incur any obligation to buy technology or services, the companies said.

"We're not here to take advantage of anybody," said Leo Alonzo, MD, a co-founder and president of MD Synergy, Van Nuys, Calif. "We just want to get you back up so you can get back to taking care of patients quickly."

Still, MD Synergy and ProxyMed hope that by helping doctors they also will help themselves. "I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'm hoping it does, but at the same time it really, really was driven because we were sitting around asking what else we could do to help after we had donated clothing, food and money," Dr. Alonzo said.

Norcross, Ga.-based ProxyMed sees the offer as an opportunity to demonstrate to practices the advantages of electronic records compared to paper records.

"Hopefully they will like what they see and they will be able stick with it," said John Lettko, ProxyMed's CEO. "If they decide they don't want to stick with it ...we will give them all of their data on a CD-ROM or some other device that they can use to load it on their PC."

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Technology aid

The HIMSS Katrina Phoenix Project is serving as a clearinghouse for industry efforts to get free technology to physicians affected by the hurricane. Contact the project through: Pat Wise, vice president for electronic health records initiatives, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society; telephone (706) 650-1482; e-mail (link).

Source: AMNews reporting

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