On February 17, 2009 the Economic Stimulus Bill also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 was finalized and signed by President Obama.  A large portion of the stimulus focuses specifically on the improvements within the Healthcare Industry.  This section of the stimulus is known as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) and discusses the improvement of Healthcare Quality, Safety, and Efficiency; Testing of Health Information Technology; Grants and Loans Funding; and Privacy.

The HITECH Act is extremely vague and physicians may not comprehend all of the terminology of what a ‘certified EHR’ or what a ‘meaningful user’ entails; therefore, they may not understand how to receive the full reimbursement amount of $64,000 (per physician).  This article is to educate physicians about the HITECH Act and what it means for you to receive as much monetary reimbursements as possible.

First, the law states that a physician must purchase a certified Electronic Health Record.  Within the bill, it is plausible that ‘certified’ stands for a CCHIT Certified® product; however, it does state that the Secretary must have the term “certified” finalized by December 31, 2009. Although we are unsure as to whether or not ‘certified’ officially means CCHIT, the entire act implies that it will become the standard.  Therefore, physicians who are beginning the search process should be reviewing EHRs that are CCHIT Certified®.

CCHIT stands for the Commission for Healthcare Information Technology, which is a non-profit organization with the undertaking to accelerate the adoption of robust, interoperable health information technology by creating a credible efficient certification process.’  The CCHIT requires that the EHR Product must meet all of the 250 criteria points in order to be approved.  As a physician, be sure when EHR shopping that you look at the certification year.  EHR Companies have a three year window before they must renew their CCHIT Certification.  Companies that were certified in 2006 must become re-certified this year in order to maintain the CCHIT status.  In addition, the approval process since 2008 has become more demanding and the organization is rejecting more companies than approving them.  Therefore, focusing on EHRs that have a more recent CCHIT Certification year (2008, 2009) are more likely to have all of the features that would consist of a ‘certified EHR’ as stated within the HITECH Act.

If you are a specialty specific physician, please be sure to look on the CCHIT website to see if your specialty will be CCHIT Certified® within the year.

The second set of terminology within the bill states that to receive any amount of reimbursement, you must be a ‘meaningful EHR user.’  To be a meaningful EHR user, you must efficiently use your EHR for at least one fiscal year before you receive your first reimbursement payment.  As a physician, you must understand what it means to ‘efficiently use your EHR.’  The government is requiring you to report on clinical quality measures.  This way, they have proof that you have purchased a certified EHR, and are a meaningful user (as evident through the reporting).  To take advantage of the stimulus and immediately benefit to receive your first incentive payment in 2011, you should purchase a CCHIT Certified® EHR within the year of 2009, train your staff how to effectively and efficiently use the system, and begin reporting in 2010.  You may believe that waiting to purchase an EHR is better; however, you run the risk of not receiving your first payment of either $18,000 in 2011.  By implementing an Electronic Health Record immediately, you will be able to receive $44,000 of reimbursements through Medicare and Medicaid.  After your first year of reporting, the incentives reduce annually.  In the second year, you are eligible to receive $12,000; third year, you are eligible to receive $8,000; fourth year, you are eligible to receive $4,000; and in the fifth year, you are eligible to receive $2,000.

Physicians, like anyone else procrastinate and will wait until the last minute to conform.  Please don’t!  Take advantage of the incentives that the Government is offering.  Penalties beginning in 2015 will affect physicians that choose to wait to purchase an Electronic Health Record.  Begin researching the EHR Industry, start scheduling demonstrations, and narrow down your EHR results.  Waiting until the last minute will negatively affect your medical practice.