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Figuring Out What A Hospital Can Get For Switching To Electronic Records

Beginning next year, tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money will flow to doctors and hospitals to help them buy computerized medical record systems as part of the economic stimulus package.

But, while road and bridge construction can be marked with nifty signs, figuring out what that might mean for your community has been tough — until now.

A company called Medsphere that helps hospitals boot up open-source electronic medical records, now offers a calculator that uses government formulas and public hospital data to show just how much money is on the line for a given facility.

For instance, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore will be eligible for more than $11.5 million in stimulus funds between next year and 2014, according to the calculator. The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York could get $13.6 million over those years. And, California’s Stanford Hospital could bring in $8.2 million. Many hospitals, including these three, had already begun setting up e-health systems before the stimulus money came into play.

You can check your local hospitals to see how much of the e-health windfall will land in your backyard. First, look up a hospital’s Medicare provider ID (you can search by name, city and state here), then input that number into Medsphere’s calculator.

To get that money, however, hospitals have to meet certain criteria drafted by the federal government. Since Medsphere’s e-health software is free — so-called open-source software that you could download from home — the firm is hoping to turn a profit by helping hospitals set up e-records and meet those federal requirements. They developed the calculator as a marketing tool to show potential clients that much of their fees are offset by the stimulus cash.

To that end, the calculator also shows the five-year cost of Medsphere’s support services for any hospital, based in part on the facility’s size. For Stanford, which is not a client, the fee would be more than $13.5 million, the calculator says. Ouch!

But, by making those prices public, Medsphere is staking out ground in a turf war between open-source advocates and big-name firms that develop their own proprietary programs, often at higher prices. Medsphere executive Rick Jung challenged the proprietary companies to publish their own prices in an interview.

In response to our questions, a spokeswoman for Cerner, a leading proprietary firm, sent an e-mail saying her company’s prices are “confidential in nature” and vary based on each clients needs. A Siemens Healthcare spokesperson said the firm does not “publicly provide pricing information.” A request for prices from GE Healthcare, another major vendor, was not immediately returned.

Fred Trotter, a fan of open-source medical records and self-described “hacktivist,” said Medsphere is charging “premium” rates, but that it’s likely a deal compared to “proprietary solutions.”

This is one of KHN’s “Short Takes” – brief items in the news. For the latest news from KHN, check out our  News Section.

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