Microsoft Preparing Health-care VARs For ARRA

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) includes incentives for doctors and hospitals to use EHRs, but they'll have to prove that they're using EHRs in ways that make the exchange of electronic medical information more efficient. Known as "meaningful use," this nebulous concept is still being hammered out, says Chris Sullivan, industry solutions director in Microsoft's U.S. Health and Life Sciences Group.

EHRs allow patient data to be accessed by third-party specialists, hospitals and outside medical services, and the technology promises to cut costs and improve doctors' ability to correctly diagnose ailments. But many organizations don't see the benefits of EHRs, while others are simply resistant to change, particularly when that change comes with significant cost implications.

ARRA contains EHR incentives, but instead of cash, doctors will receive increased Medicare and Medicaid payments. But the meaningful use stipulation, and the fact that incentives won't start until 2011, have raised doubts that ARRA will have any meaningful effect on EHR adoption.

Microsoft is working against this tide in an effort to show partners the benefits they'll reap down the road.

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"There is still some work that needs to be done at the administrative level and below to define meaningful use so that we can understand how partners can take advantage. We do have an opportunity to provide guidance from an infrastructure perspective," Sullivan said in an interview.

But ARRA is about more than just EHRs. On the hospital side, Microsoft is bringing technologies such as business intelligence to bear to help organizations get a handle on the mountains of health-care data that reside in back-end databases.

"They have a lot of data that's locked into different silos and proprietary back ends, and this data needs to be aggregated and displayed to optimize consumption," Sullivan said.

Microsoft also is reaching out to partners to share information on how the stimulus is structured and offer them training in areas such as grant writing. "There is going to be a premium put on customers' and partners' ability to write these grants in a way that puts themselves in the best possible light to qualify," he said.

In July at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, Microsoft will run a health-care IT track within the public sector track that will focus on readiness enablement for partners around health-care-specific solutions, according to Sullivan. Microsoft also plans a series of virtual events to elucidate its health-care IT plans.