The HIECH Stimulus Act is part of President Obama’s plan for full, nation-wide use of EMRs by 2014. The act promotes Electronic Medical Record (EMR) adoption by allocating funds to reimburse physicians for purchasing and using a qualified EMR system. In addition, physicians who fail to adopt an EMR will eventually face Medicare reimbursement penalties. Although the goal is lofty, Obama hopes the act’s carrot and stick approach will encourage physicians to adopt EMRs.

However, a recent report by HealthLeaders-InterStudy indicates that Phoenix, Arizona is experiencing a high rate of Electronic Health Records (EHR) uninstalls. According to the report, the trend is due to training, functionality, or affordability issues. Both top-level hospitals and smaller providers struggle with the financial constraints of purchasing and implementing EHR systems. Arizona rapidly adopted EMR systems due to a 2005 executive order by Governor Janet Napolitano, which required that all healthcare providers install an EHR by 2010.

Does this uninstallation trend provide us a glimpse into the future? Will the U.S. share Arizona’s experience at the national level? Arizona’s executive order is similar to the HITECH stimulus act because both seek to rapidly drive EMR adoption to meet an arbitrary deadline. In both cases, physicians feel pressured to make a very important and potentially very expensive decision. Although EMRs provide many benefits, selecting the wrong system, or rushing the implementation process could lead to many problems. It seems that Arizona physicians are scrambling to remove unusable systems due to poor selection or botched implementations.

This does not necessarily mean the HITECH Act will fail. Rather, it means that physicians need to be careful and not rush into a decision they may regret. EMR system prices can reach $100,000 or more. In contrast, the stimulus act will only pay about $44,000 in reimbursements. Physicians should focus on their needs, not wants or superfluous features, and select the simplest system that fulfills their requirements. Simple systems are easy to install, easy to learn, and easy to use. Ease of use is critical; complex and difficult systems can lead to spiraling maintenance and training costs, and may ultimately be discarded.

The uninstallation trend in Arizona is a clear warning. Although well-intentioned, the HITECH Stimulus Act may encourage physicians to rashly purchase a system that will not work well in the long run. Physicians must resist the temptation throw in a system just to qualify for reimbursement payments. Instead, they should take their time to find a simple, user-friendly system that meets their needs. After all, $44,000 sounds like a lot of money, but it will probably not cover the more expensive EMR systems with monthly maintenance fees.

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