One major goal of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is to encourage physicians to adopt Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). The act does that by paying incentives up to $44,000 to physicians that adopt EMRs. In addition, the act penalizes physicians without an EMR by decreasing their Medicare reimbursements.

How can physicians qualify for the incentives and avoid the penalties? According to the legislation, they must be an “eligible professional” who uses a “certified EMR” in a “meaningful way.” In my last article we talked about certified EMR systems. This time we will examine the “eligible professional” requirement.

The “eligible professional” requirement has four main components. First, the “professional” must be a healthcare provider such as a physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner. Second, the provider must receive Medicare reimbursement payments.
Third, the provider must not work in a hospital-based environment. For example, anesthesiologists, pathologists, and emergency room physicians would not qualify. Hospitals are reimbursed as a corporate entity according to a separate schedule, and not on a per-provider basis. Fourth, labs and skilled nursing facilities are not required to adopt an EMR, so it is possible that providers working at these facilities may not qualify.

One drawback of the stimulus program is that unqualified providers may feel that they do not need an EMR. Good EMR systems offer many benefits – not just money from the government. EMR systems can help a practice cut costs – especially those associated with managing paper charts and outsourced dictation. EMR systems can improve patient care by requiring providers to complete more comprehensive exams and reviews. EMR systems can help increase revenue since providers will no longer have to under-code because their current paper charts do not meet CMS requirements.

Although many things are uncertain at this point, geriatric and long-term care providers that work primarily in nursing homes may not qualify for the program. This does not mean that geriatric or any other physicians should not adopt an EMR. On the contrary, a lean, mobile EMR can greatly benefit any practice, especially geriatric/long term care practices.

Currently unqualified providers should also keep in mind that the stimulus act is still in its infancy and will probably undergo several revisions. Congress may decide that labs, skilled nursing facilities, and similar practices need to adopt an EMR so they can benefit from information sharing and contribute to the goal of universal electronic medical records. Therefore, providers should not delay or cancel their plans to adopt an EMR, rather they should move forward so they have plenty of time to implement their systems and learn to use it in a meaningful way.

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Ryan Ricks

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