- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

The federal government this week announced it will allow a few doctors’ offices to try out the latest high-tech health-records system for an undisclosed price.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which handles federal health-insurance programs, will pick five to 10 small physician offices nationwide to participate in the testing program.

The electronic system, called Vista-Office Electronic Health Record, handles and stores patient records, which can include health charts, X-rays, preventive care and prescription-drug lists.

The initiative is part of the federal government’s push to help the health care industry establish a widespread network for electronic medical records.

“When fully realized, electronic health record software will help physicians improve health care quality while avoiding unnecessary costs,” said Dr. Mark B. McClellan, CMS administrator.

But offices, with up to five doctors, that qualify will have to pay at least $2,740 to obtain the licensing support and updates to run the program in its first year. That cost drops to about $1,140 in the second year.

Other expenses include software, program installation and employee training.

The ultimate cost of using the system will vary depending on an office’s size and technology demands, said CMS spokeswoman Capt. Cynthia Wark, who declined to give any estimates.

Vista will be tested in physician offices for an unspecified time, and doctors will need to apply with contracted vendors for the program, Ms. Wark said.

The 20-year-old system was created by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is used in 1,300 VA facilities across the nation. Vista maintains patient records for more than 5 million veterans who receive their health care from the federal agency.

Cut the fat

Six organic-foods companies this week started a campaign that encourages families to cut fatty foods and add more vegetables and fruits to their meals at home.

The campaign, worth more than $250,000, will last at least three years and focus on teaching families how to prepare healthy meals, said Susan Lamontagne, a principal at Public Interest Media Group Inc., the New York media firm that created the concept.

“When we started [the campaign’s development] three years ago, everyone was focusing on two areas: schools and physical activity” when discussing childhood obesity, she said. “But no one was talking about what kids were eating at home.”

Organic companies Whole Foods Market, Annie’s Homegrown, Newman’s Own, Horizon Organic, Applegate Farms and Newman’s Own Organics bankrolled the project.

Whole Foods, an Austin, Texas, organic-foods supermarket chain, will highlight the campaign tomorrow in more than 30 of its stores in cities including the District, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Pittsburgh.

The stores will hold farmers’ markets for children from 9 a.m. to noon and offer a game that encourages children to seek out more vegetables, fruits and lower-fat foods while shopping with their parents.

“This is about raising awareness that certain kinds of foods should not be a regular staple in a healthy, balanced diet,” Ms. Lamontagne said.

Health Care runs every Friday. Call Marguerite Higgins at 202/636-4892 or e-mail her at mhiggins@washingtontimes.com.

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