But the requirement could also speed up the retirement of aging physicians at a time when they are in short supply.
That's according to John-David Lovelock, research vice president at Gartner, a Connecticut-based market research firm. He figures about 75 percent of doctors do not use a system that will meet Medicare's requirements.
Even though physicians can get $44,000 from the recently passed stimulus bill if they start using electronic medical records by October 2011, the average EMR system costs more than $30,000 — plus a lot of time to figure out how to use it.
Many doctors won't want to deal with the resulting slowdown in patient volumes or the change in their work habits, Lovelock said, so they'll look for alternatives, like becoming part of a larger group.
"For the primary-care physicians, that's already been happening," said Keith Pitzele, president of Indianapolis-based RANAC Corp., which sells computer systems to doctors, noting that his own doctor recently joined the St. Vincent Physician Network. "We probably will see more of that."
But a worse outcome for the health care world would be if many baby boomer physicians just retire rather than hassle with installing an EMR.
That would be bad timing. Indiana, for example, has 3,500 fewer physicians than it should, according to a 2006 study by the Indiana University School of Medicine.
• In spite of the tough economy, growing numbers of seniors still need care. So an in-home-care franchise is expanding.
Home Instead Senior Care, with offices in Indianapolis and Lafayette, has added a location in Noblesville.
Home Instead offers to handle seniors' non-medical needs, such as companionship and help with daily activities and chores.
"As the baby boomers age and want to remain independent, the demand for quality care continues to increase, despite a gloomy economic outlook," said Chris Irons, owner of the Home Instead franchise in central Indiana.
He opened an office in Indianapolis in 1996 and added another in Lafayette in 2006. The first two offices employ 225 people. Irons has added 40 people to staff the Noblesville office.
Indiana is expected to see a 35-percent increase in the number of personal and home-care aides by 2016, according to a forecast by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nebraska-based Home Instead has 800 franchises throughout the country employing 60,000 care givers.