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Surveys say 41% of physicians plan to adopt EHR

A desire to qualify for federal incentive payments is an important motivator for yea-sayers

February 2011 · Vol. 23, No. 2

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Forty-one percent of office-based physicians intend to take advantage of federal incentive payments for adoption and meaningful use of certified electronic health records (EHR), according to survey data released by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). In addition, four fifths of the nation’s hospitals plan to adopt EHR. Survey data were released as the registration period opened for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.

These survey numbers represent a reversal of the low interest in EHR adoption in previous years, commented David Blumenthal, MD, MPP, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. He credited leadership from the medical community and the federal government for the improved prospects for adoption and use of health information technology (health IT).

“For years we have known that electronic health records would improve care for patients and bring about greater cost effectiveness in our health sector, yet adoption rates by health care providers remained low,” Dr. Blumenthal said. “In 2009, Congress and the president authorized major new federal support for EHR adoption and use, and in combination with medical professional and hospital leadership. I believe we are seeing the tide turn toward widespread and accelerating adoption and use of health IT.”

The NCHS survey found that four fifths of office-based physicians who are planning to achieve meaningful use of certified EHR technology—about one third of all office-based physicians—plan to enroll during Stage 1 of the programs. Only 14% of respondents said that they are not planning to apply for meaningful use incentives.

Incentives vary by program

Nonhospital-based physicians and other eligible professionals can earn incentive payments as high as $44,000 under Medicare or $63,750 under Medicaid. Provider registration for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program and some Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs opened January 3, 2011. Most states will allow provider registration to begin for their Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs during the spring and summer of 2010.

To qualify for incentive payments under the Medicare EHR Incentive Program, providers must achieve meaningful use of certified EHR technology under regulations issued by CMS and ONC. Medicaid providers can receive their first year’s incentive payment for adopting, implementing, and upgrading certified EHR technology but must demonstrate meaningful use in subsequent years to qualify for additional payments.

Dr. Blumenthal said that the meaningful-use process has contributed to the increased willingness of providers to adopt EHR, especially because it guides providers through staged objectives for the productive use of EHRs, and because providers can now be assured that Complete EHRs and EHR Modules certified under ONC criteria by ONC-authorized testing and certification bodies can be relied on to support the meaningful-use objectives.

Government offers technical support

He also pointed to the technical support programs created under the HITECH Act and now operating under ONC. These programs offer support to providers as they switch from paper records to EHRs. In particular, 62 Regional Extension Centers across the country will offer customized, on-the-ground assistance, especially for smaller-practice primary care providers and for small hospitals and clinics, Blumenthal said. (For more information on these centers, visit healthit.hhs.gov/REC.)

“We know that adoption of EHRs and conversion to EHR-based care is expensive and challenging, especially for smaller providers,” Dr. Blumenthal said. “With HITECH, we are able to provide unprecedented funding and technical support programs to help providers make the transition and to help our nation achieve the improvements in health care quality, safety and cost-effectiveness EHRs will bring about.”

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