Louisiana will be among the first states to offer incentive payments to Medicaid providers and hospitals for adopting, implementing or upgrading electronic health record (EHR) technology to treat patients more efficiently, reduce their administrative work and share health information securely among medical facilities.

“Electronic health records allow providers to better track their patients, share health information and make referrals, and this technology will play a valuable role in improving the quality, safety and efficiency of health care in Louisiana,” LDH Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein said. “We have made upgrading the state’s health information technology infrastructure a key goal in 2011, and this program is a critical piece to the success of that effort.”

Studies have estimated that up to 100,000 avoidable medical errors, such as dispensing improper medication, mislabeling test results or misreading handwritten treatment instructions, occur each year. Health care providers can use EHR to establish uniform data entry processes and curb such errors. EHRs also can help medical professionals share information about patients easily, and allows them to spend less time filling out paperwork and more time providing care. For example, studies show that for every hour nurses spend treating patients, they must spend an hour filling out paperwork. If nurses could use EHR to upload this information quickly and efficiently, they could spend more time directly treating patients.

Under the Louisiana Medicaid EHR Incentive Program, which the Department of Health will launch Monday, Jan. 3, 2011, eligible Medicaid physicians and other healthcare providers could receive up to $63,750 in incentive payments over a six-year period. Eligible providers include physicians (primarily doctors of medicine or osteopathy), nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, dentists and physician assistants practicing in federally qualified health centers or rural health clinics led by a physician assistant. Providers can receive incentive payments in the first year for adopting EHR in their practices, and then are eligible for an additional five years of incentive payments if they demonstrate meaningful use of EHR. Children’s hospitals and acute care hospitals that treat Medicaid patients are also eligible for incentive payments. Hospital incentive payments are based on many factors, but begin with a $2 million base payment.

Providers and hospitals interested in the Louisiana Medicaid EHR Incentive Program can visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) eligibility page to determine if they meet the requirements for participation. Eligible providers and hospitals also must be certified to use EHR technology. The Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum is offering this certification through its Louisiana Health Information Technology Center. Providers should contact the center at rec@lhcqf.org to inquire about training and certification.

Louisiana Medicaid received federal funding for this program through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, or HITECH Act, which established programs under Medicare and Medicaid encouraging health care providers to adopt and effectively use EHR and health information technology. Louisiana is one of four states, along with Iowa, Oklahoma and Kentucky, to be the first to offer these incentive payments to Medicaid providers.

 “Our team has worked very hard to be among the first states ready to get payments to hospitals, physicians and other providers, and will continue working around the clock to ensure timely payments are made,” Secretary Greenstein said. “We are committed to this because Louisiana is in a unique position to lead the nation in improving health care, and health information technology and electronic health records are an important piece of that puzzle. Our rural nature and experience with natural disasters reinforces how important using available technology is to improve quality of health care and ensure a continuity and coordination of care. As we saw during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when so many residents were displaced and needed medical treatment but had no way to access their health records, having such information stored electronically can lead to better health care and more efficient access for the people we serve.”

Through a robust EHR system, providers can securely exchange patient information across state lines, and can safely share patients’ files with other doctors’ offices and medical facilities, rather than having to hand-deliver X-rays, scanned images and other privacy-protected medical information.

Interested participants can visit DHH’s EHR Incentive Payment Program site  to learn more about how they can enroll for the program and receive payments.

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's blog at www.myhealthla.org, Twitter at http://twitter.com/La_Health_Dept and search for the Louisiana Department of Health on Facebook.