Health IT financing options expand

Vendors are offering funding to physicians, hoping to persuade them to buy electronic medical record systems.

By — Posted Jan. 22, 2010

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One technology company recently launched an electronic medical records financing program, while another program expanded in the expectation that physicians are looking for more affordable ways to adopt technology. And more offers are on the way.

IBM announced in December 2009 that its lending arm, IBM Global Financing, has entered into financing agreements with four major health information technology companies -- Siemens Healthcare, Lavender and Wyatt Systems Inc., Healthcare Management Systems Inc. and SCC Soft Computer -- to provide loans to hospitals, labs and physician practices adopting health IT systems.

Richard Dicks, general manager for IBM Global Financing in North America, said IBM's move is an attempt to help physicians adopt technology today while they wait for government funding. Incentives of up to $44,000 per physician under the federal stimulus package don't offer help with upfront costs. To qualify, physicians must already have the technology and be able to demonstrate meaningful use of it.

Since the introduction of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last year, many technology vendors have begun offering financing options -- otherwise available only to hospitals -- to small physician practices. The programs are designed so payments are deferred until practices start collecting stimulus funds.

IBM will provide financing for a variety of clinical and practice management systems from the four vendors that use IBM technology. Eligible systems range from fully functional EMRs to health IT solutions for specialty practices. Financing also will be offered for IBM's infrastructure and health care consulting services when bundled with packages purchased by one of the four vendor partners.

GE Healthcare, one of the first health IT companies to offer physicians financing tied to stimulus funds, announced that it is expanding its financing program to include GE's Centricity Business Suite.

When it started the financing program in summer 2009, the company said it was making $100 million available for the program. It recently reported that it already has seen $140 million in sales financed through the program. The company said many customers were looking to move beyond EMRs and adopt health IT to help improve efficiencies in other areas of their practices. Therefore, it decided to expand the financing program to include nonclinical systems.

The latest entry into vendor financing is UnitedHealth Group-owned Ingenix, which plans to offer physicians zero-interest financing on its CareTracker product. The financing would be arranged through OptumHealth, a United-owned bank. Also, Allscripts-Misys Healthcare Solutions was expected to announce its own vendor financing program in January.

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