Starting today, physicians can begin submitting data to the Medicare program to qualify for thousands of dollars in bonus payments under the federal government’s new electronic health record incentive program. Physicians can attest to their use of EHRs through a new online portal set up by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The program, which was created under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 and officially launched in January of this year, gives doctors a chance to earn up to $44,000 over five years through the so-called meaningful use of EHRs. In their first year of participation, they can earn $18,000 for successfully reporting that they have complied with the government’s standards for using EHRs. Physicians have until the end of 2012 to report on 90 days of meaningful use and still get the full first-year incentive. After that, they must report on a full year of data.
Since April 18 is the first day that physicians are able to report to CMS, it’s something of an early test of the incentive program. The program has been touted by the administration as a way to finally close the gap in physician adoption of EHRs, but it’s unclear if the incentives will be enough to motivate a large number of doctors to make the switch from paper records. Interest in the program is high, but many doctors still have their doubts.
While $44,000 is a lot of money, health information technology experts say it’s unlikely to cover the cost of a new EHR system. Even if it did, the CMS payments come only after physicians have made the up-front investment of purchasing and implementing the EHR systems.
And cost isn’t the only factor. There’s also the hassle of switching over to a new system, which may or may not have the functionality necessary to make the office workflow any better. This a concern often voiced by certain subspecialists, who say that most EHRs on the market are geared toward primary care.
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Check back with Notes from the Road in the coming months as we follow the progress of the EHR incentive program.
— Mary Ellen Schneider (on Twitter @MaryEllenNY)