Outside the Vermont Information Technology Leaders in Montpelier. VTD/Josh Larkin
Outside the Vermont Information Technology Leaders in Montpelier. VTD/Josh Larkin

Vermont Information Technology Leaders, Inc., announced this week that 75 percent of Vermont’s primary care practitioners have signed up to work with VITL on implementing electronic health records. About 63 percent have already switched to an electronic health record system, according to Steve Larose, vice president of external affairs at VITL.

The mission of VITL, a Montpelier-based nonprofit, is to help doctors incorporate electronic record-keeping into their practices. The effort, which began several years ago, is federally funded.

VITL received a $7 million grant from the federal government last year to create a Regional Extension Center that helps doctors adopt electronic health record systems. VITL is one of more than 60 Regional extension Centers nationwide, and the only such center in Vermont, that is working with practitioners to integrate Electronic Health Records systems into their practices.

Larose said Congress set aside $27 billion for incentives that will be paid directly to hospitals and physician practices that achieve meaningful use of their EHRs. About $706 million has been allocated in grants to 60+ regional extension centers around the country.

Health care providers must prove that they can make “meaningful use” of the technology in order to get the incentive. Qualified applicants can use the Vermont Health Information exchange network for patient data, e-prescriptions and proper electronic storage of patient data.

Once doctors have met the “meaningful use” criteria, they may receive $44,000 from Medicare or $64,000 from Medicaid for the technology. The payments are made over a five-year period, and no practice may receive both incentive packages.

Some of the software platforms can cost up to $40,000, Larose said, and practices often have to schedule fewer patients daily as they adjust to the change. VITL’s involvement with practices as they make the switch, Larose said, ranges from a few months to over a year.

The tradeoff of time and expense, however, is worth it, Larose said.

“We find that many times [providers] are able to practice more efficiently, and it helps them to improve the quality of care that they’re able to provide to their patients,” he said.

VITL also works with public funds to maintain the Vermont Health Information Exchange, which is a secured computer network that allows care providers to exchange patient information instantly statewide.

The network, launched in 2007, serves as an intermediary between various Electronic Health Record software types using a nationwide standard for such files.

VITL’s revenues were $3.8 million in 2009, and the nonprofit paid $1.2 million to independent contractors, roughly half to GE Healthcare, which maintains the infrastructure for the Vermont Health Information Exchange. VITL’s contract with GE Healthcare will end in October, at which time the contract for those services will go to Medicity, a Utah-based Health Information Exchange firm.

The consultants have been mostly replaced by full-time employees. By the end of June, Larose said, VITL will have 20 full-time employees.

Twitter: @@taylordobbs. Taylor Dobbs is a freelance reporter based in Burlington, Vt. Dobbs is a recent graduate of the journalism program at Northeastern University. He has written for PBS-NOVA, Wired...