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Healthcare Roundup: Hospitals Regain Ground, Govt. Pumps Up Health IT, Gainsharing On a Roll, and More

Green Shoots For Hospitals? â€" A Thomson Reuters survey of 500 hospitals showed that only a third operated in the red during the first quarter of this year, compared with 50 percent last fall. One reason is that their median labor cost fell 3 percent. Last year, median revenue per patient rose less than expenses did, and investment income, of course, dropped like a stone. Moody's downgraded investor-owned hospitals earlier this year, and it remains nervous about their near-term outlook because of rising amounts of uncompensated care and bad debt. [Sources: Wall Street Journal, Modern Healthcare]

Government Posts Grants for Health IT â€" The Obama Administration has announced it will dispense nearly $1.2 billion in grants to help physicians and hospitals adopt electronic health records. This is not new money, but part of the $19.2 billion that was allocated to health IT in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) last winter. $598 million will be spent on 70 information technology extension centers designed to help providers implement the technology. The remaining $564 million will support development of a nationwide system of health information exchanges. This is nearly double the amount that was originally allocated for HIEs, which is good news for the communities and states that are trying to build these networks and for health IT vendors. [Source: Reuters]

Medical Students Are Using EHRs â€" Eighty-four percent of medical students have had experience with EHRs in their clinical rotations, and 90 percent say it will be an important factor in deciding where to practice, according to the fourth annual Epocrates Future Physicians of America survey. Forty-five percent of the respondents use an iPhone or iPod Touch, and the majority of the rest plan to get a smartphone in the next year. While most are glad they're going into medicine, only 28 percent give the U.S. healthcare system high marks. [Source: Epocrates] Gainsharing Gains Momentum â€" A group of 12 New Jersey hospitals have implemented a voluntary gainsharing program with the approval of CMS, even though the practice is technically illegal. CMS has also approved other gainsharing pilots at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and Charleston Area Medical Center in Charleston, WV. In addition, more than a dozen other hospitals have obtained permission for gainsharing from CMS' Office of the Inspector General in recent years. By sharing savings with physicians, the hospitals are trying to involve them in efforts to cut supply costs and reduce complications and readmissions. [Sources: USA Today, BNET Healthcare]

Loudon County Redux â€" The saga of hospital competition in northern Virginia has taken a new turn as HCA has announced it will seek to build a new hospital on Route 50 in Loudoun County, after all. Inova, HCA's main competitor in the state, earlier announced its own plan to put up a hospital on Route 50--an under-populated but growing area--after HCA's bid to locate a new facility in Broadlands, close to an Inova hospital, was turned down by the county board of supervisors. Inova said at the time that it would drop its plan to expand to Route 50 if HCA decided to do it instead. At press time, Innova had not responded to HCA's latest move in their high-stakes chess match. [Sources: Washington Post, BNET Healthcare]