As we referenced in our December 15, 2012 blog entitled “Incentive Payments For Transition To Electronic Health Records: Is Medicare Being Defrauded?,” Congress enacted legislation in 2009 to provide incentives to physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers to transition from paper health care records to electronic health records (EHRs). Physicians were eligible for grants in amounts of up to $44,000 and hospitals were eligible for grants in amounts of up to approximately $2 million to help pay the costs involved with the transition to EHR.
The so-called HITECH Act (the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act) was enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that was signed into law on February 17, 2009. Its intent was to promote the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology.
In an effort to promote the adoption of EHR systems, the Medicare EHR Incentive program began in 2011 to provide payments to providers who adopted EHRs with a minimal set of “meaningful use” capabilities. A recent study investigated whether incentives have increased adaptation of EHRs among office-based physicians; it attempted to identify gaps in EHR adaptation and utilization among physicians and practices; and, it looked at the expansion of utilization and capabilities in practices with existing EHRs. The study focused on the use of any type of basic EHR system, the adoption of a basic EHR system, and the adoption of a series of computerized capabilities associated with Stage 1 core criteria for meaningful use.
The results of the study found that there was an increase from 51% in 2010 to 72% in 2012 in the percentage of office-based physicians using any type of EHR. Furthermore, there was a 60% increase in the number of physicians who reported adoption of EHRs meeting criteria for a basic system during the same period. Providers who typically have low adoption rates for EHR systems (solo physicians, physicians who work in community health centers, and older physicians) had adoption rates for basic EHR systems that more than doubled during the period. Physicians in larger practices and physicians associated with HMOs demonstrated a higher level of routine use of EHR systems.
The study showed that as of April 2013, 70% of eligible professionals were participating in the Medicare or Medicaid EHR incentive programs and more than half had received payments from the Medicare EHR Incentive program.
Some of the potential benefits of EHR include clinical benefits (improved quality of care and reduced medical errors), organizational benefits (financial benefits and operational benefits for health care providers), and benefits to society as a whole (such as improved ability to conduct medical research, improved health of the community, and reduced health care costs). The downside of EHR include high upfront costs associated with implementing EHR systems, the ongoing costs of maintaining EHR systems, the learning curve associated with implementing EHR systems, and, from the patients’ perspective, important privacy concerns regarding EHR.
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