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Minorities Lack Access to Physicians Using EHR

Health information technology czar David Blumenthal is calling on vendors to increase electronic health record adoption among physicians serving underserved minority populations.

In an open letter addressed to the vendor community that was posted online Oct. 18, Blumenthal--whose official title is the national coordinator for health information technology within the Health and Human Services Department--says he wants vendor assistance to ensure "we are not creating a new form of 'digital divide.'"

Electronic health record adoption rates remain lower among health care providers serving Hispanic or Latino patients who are uninsured or relied on Medicaid, Blumenthal says in the letter, which is co-signed by Garth Graham, director of the HHS office of minority health.

A 2009 paper by two medical data statisticians found that in 2005 and 2006, EHR adoption among personal care physicians for privately insured patents was higher than adoption among personal care physicians servicing Medicaid patients. The data showed that 13.2 percent of the former population saw doctors utilizing EHRs while only 8.3 of the latter did, the statisticians say.

The Obama administration is promoting adoption of EHRs through incentive payments to health care providers, provided they make meaningful use of the technology. HHS estimates the incentive payments will total between $9.7 billion and $27.4 billion over a decade. Medicare payments to individual providers will also start to drop in 2015 unless providers demonstrate meaningful use.

"It is absolutely necessary that the leading EHR vendors work together, continuing to provide EHR adoption opportunities for physicians and other healthcare providers working within underserved communities of color," Blumenthal said in his letter, inviting vendors to "discuss outreach opportunities further" with two HHS officials.

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