The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) is offering physicians and healthcare organizations financial incentives to transform their medical record systems to Electronic Health Record (EHR) programs. This is an incredible opportunity for providers and patients alike.

The obvious benefit to providers is the cash they receive to implement the EHR.  CMS hopes that this will be the catalyst to help resistant providers adapt to a paper-less healthcare environment (yes, it is a slight oxymoron to say a paper-less healthcare environment, but a good goal nonetheless).  There are some less than obvious benefits that can be expected.  An EHR can reduce errors in coding as direct typing from physicians limits the need for transcription.  Errors in coding are costly as physicians may miss opportunities for reimbursement or file for reimbursement in error and be fined monies in the millions.  The money providers receive went drastically up for outpatient-based services because of a fee-for service system over capitation, which has driven in-patient care for years.  This is about to change.  The concept of Diagnosis Related Groups or DRGs is about to come to the out-patient world making it the responsibility of the physician to provide care, receive monies for care, and distribute them appropriately for ancillary services.  The only way for this to work is with careful computerized EHRs to keep track of CPT-Codes and proper disbursement.  There is no doubt that CMS will audit the new systems and violators be fined.  CMS is offering providers amazing opportunities to GET FREE MONEY, which will help avoid costs later.  This all applies to providers, but patients benefit from these new EHR funds as well.

The Institute of Medicine put out a report regarding medical errors over 10 years ago, which documented the severity of medical related errors to patient safety.  Since then, providers have been changing rules on how orders are written and results transmitted in an effort to reduce harm to patients when they are at their most vulnerable.  Mistakes are inevitable but these actions have drastically reduced them.  One specific value to EHRs in a hospital-based system is the direct physician order modules in which a physician enters an order directly rather than having a nurse or secretary transcribe their orders.  On an outpatient level, new EHRs offer prescription-writing programs that print on special prescription paper rather than needing a handwritten document.  This along with the latest technology of electronically submitting prescriptions to pharmacies reduces the possibility of medication dispensing errors, which can have poor outcomes.  Patients also receive financial benefits because of better coding.  It ensures that proper information is passed to their insurance companies and that they only get billed for the services rendered.  The financial benefit will also be seen on a premium level as reimbursement becomes more exact and fewer errors occur, but these changes will take probably 15 or more years to actually see.

The bottom line is that whether you are a patient or a provider, EHRs are extremely beneficial.  CMS is putting our tax dollars to work.  It is not often that tax dollar spending can be seen so clearly, it is a refreshing change just in time for the presidential election.