The Obama administration really, really wants doctors to start using electronic health records (EHRs). For the past few years, they have been out urging physicians to invest in the systems and offering a pretty big carrot for adoption. Under the 2009 HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act, physicians who meet certain quality metrics through the use of certified health IT systems can qualify for incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid. Under the Medicare program, the maximum incentive is $44,000 over 5 years. Under Medicaid, it’s nearly 64,000 over 6.
Now officials at the Health and Human Services department are trying to drive up adoption by removing a potential barrier to early participation in the program. HHS recently announced that physicians can begin participating in the incentive program this year and not have to meet quality standards until 2014. Previously, if a provider reported to HHS that he or she was using health IT as part of the incentive program in 2011, they would have to meet the quality standards starting in 2013. But those that started sometime in 2012 wouldn’t have to meet the standards until 2014 and would still qualify for the maximum incentive payments. It can get a little complicated, but essentially HHS is trying to take away reasons for people to hold off on adopting EHRs.
It’s hard to tell if this latest policy change will make a big difference to physicians considering an EHR. But the incentive program as a whole does seem to have physicians interested. A new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 52% of office-based physicians report that they plan to take advantage of the new incentive payments. As for doctors who have already adopted some type of “basic” EHR, that number has climbed from 17% in 2008 to 34% this year.
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— Mary Ellen Schneider