The HITECH Meaningful Use program was designed to improve patient care and modernize America’s health care industry by promoting the adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHR). The HITECH program offers Eligible Providers (EP) up to $44,000 over five years for the Medicare track, or up to $64,000 per provider over six years for the Medicaid track. To qualify, physicians must meet the eligibility requirements for Medicare or Medicaid; they must purchase a certified EHR system; and they must use the system according to the 25 meaningful use criteria.
Medicare payments are broken up over five years for a total of $44,000, assuming a practice meets the minimum allowable charges threshold. EPs can get started in 2011 or 2012 and still receive the full stimulus amount. EPs who start in 2013 will only be able to receive $39,000; those who start in 2014 will only receive $24,000. EPs who start in 2015 or later will receive no stimulus, and may be subject to penalties.
EPs must meet the meaningful use guidelines for 90 days before they begin receiving payments. The first quarter of 2011 and the first 90 day reporting period is almost over. EPs who got started with EHR in 2010 and were able to meet the requirements starting on January 1, 2010 could receive their first incentive payments in late April or early May of 2011. October 1 is the last day to begin a reporting period for 2011.
Practices will not be able to simply purchase an EHR and immediately start their reporting periods. Those who hope to begin reporting this year need to have an EHR purchased and installed no later than June or July. Implementing EHR is non-trivial; it takes time to acquire the hardware you need, install the software, train the staff, and become comfortable and efficient with the new workflow. Practices that hope to start in 2012 need to purchase and begin implementation by September or October of this year.
Anyone considering EHR should make an informed business decision and consider the many benefits EHR can bring, and not simply focus on the costs. Practices should consider a custom solution that will minimize training time and workflow reorganization. High-volume specialists should be wary of traditional point-and-click EHR systems because they may lead to reduced productivity and revenue. Practices like these should look for certified EHRs that work with voice recognition or dictation.
That being said, any practice that qualifies for the incentives and does not currently have EHR should seriously consider participating in the HITECH program. EHR systems offer many benefits that will improve office efficiencies and patient care. Electronic charting is the future of health care. Evolution tells us that those who are not able to adapt to their changing environment will not have a bright outlook. The HITECH program is a one-time deal. The government has never before, nor will likely again offer financial assistance to help medical practices invest in EHR. As they say, it is best to “strike while the iron is hot.”