We talk to many physicians, practice mangers, and others associated with the medical industries, that ask us about the “EMR Mandate.”  Many people are under the assumption that there is a law that requires medical practices to adopt EMR.  As of yet, Congress has not passed any laws that require EMR adoption.  However, the HITECH stimulus act does threaten non-adopters with cuts in their Medicare reimbursements.  The cuts would begin in 2015 and increase to a maximum of 5% of the reimbursements.  Think of the HITECH act as an “encouragement,” not a mandate or law requiring EMR adoption.

However, the free market may have its own EMR “mandate” in the near future.  NORC at the University of Chicago published a study late last month which found wide popular support for EMR adoption.  Among the findings, the report states 78% of Americans believe EMR could prove patient care.  59% believe EMR could reduce health care costs.  72% support interoperability and information sharing.  80% support e-prescribing, and 79% thought personal health records could benefit patient care.  Perhaps the most interesting statistic claims that 64% think the benefits of EMR systems outweigh the associated privacy concerns.

The survey makes it clear that there is broad popular support for electronic health records.  However, despite the “carrot and stick” approach of the HITECH Act, many physicians and medical practices are reluctant to invest in EMR systems.  The public will gain more exposure to EHR systems over the next few years as those practices who are participating in HITECH come online.

Patients will see the benefits of EMR systems, which should include things like filling out less paperwork, easier visit check-in, online access to their medical records, the ability to easily share their records between multiple caregivers, less hassle with insurance formularies, and many other benefits.  We can imagine that patients will come to enjoy and expect these features from their doctors.  There will likely be such a large difference in the quality of service that patients will tend to avoid practices still using paper records in favor of those who have switched to EMR.

Although there is no law that requires EMR adoption, market pressures may force practices to make the switch or risk losing a large percentage of their patients.  Think of the places you shop.  Almost every retailer out there, from giants like Target and Wal-Mart, all the way down small mom and pop boutique stores use electronic point of sale systems.  We are so used to seeing these systems, that we take it for granted.  It can be surprising to wander into small store that only accepts cash or worse yet, figures sales tax using pencil and paper.  In time, medical practices that use paper charts will be quaint relics like the ancient small town general store that still figures sales tax with pencil and paper.  If your practice is has not switched, consider all the benefits it can bring to your patients.  It is better to change now while the federal government is offering incentives than to wait until your reimbursements are cut and your schedule is empty.  Please let us know if you would like information about how you can participate in the HITECH Act.

Ryan Ricks
Security Office