Although the HITECH Stimulus Act has created a flurry of interest in Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), physicians and hospitals are not spending their money just yet. The HITECH Stimulus Act encourages EMR adoption by reimbursing physicians up to $44,000 over several years. In order to qualify, eligible physicians must purchase a certified system and use it in a meaningful way.

Although many expected to see a sharp spike in EMR demand, it hasn’t happened just yet. Many factors combine to put the breaks on demand. First, physicians are taking their time and researching EMR vendors. They don’t want to risk purchasing a system that won’t qualify for the stimulus package, or worse yet, not work for their practice in the long run.

Undefined meaningful use and certification requirements cause many physicians to hold off on EMR purchases. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology approved meaningful use recommendations in July. However, the recommendations won’t be official until the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services formally adopts them in January 2010. In addition, the “certified EMR” requirement has not been defined, and no certifying bodies have been appointed.

The EMR market itself is intimidating; there are hundreds of EMR vendors. It can be exceedingly difficult for physicians to cut through marketing rhetoric and determine which system fits their needs. Physicians have heard many horror stories about failed implementations, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Stimulus Act is a reimbursement program. However, many practices, both large and small, don’t have the liquid capital necessary to purchase an EMR system. The recession can also make it difficult to get a loan or otherwise obtain financing. If physicians can’t afford to purchase an EMR on their own, the Stimulus Act won’t help them.

All of these factors combine to slow down the decision process. Many feel the time table set out by the stimulus package is too aggressive. Once the requirements are officially adopted in January 2010, physicians will have a year to purchase, implement, and establish meaningful use of their EMR systems. 2011 is the first year for reimbursements, and also offers the highest payout. Physicians will need to move fast in order to qualify.

The solution is to purchase a simple, flexible, and inexpensive EMR system. Physicians should select the most basic system that will fulfill their needs and conform to meaningful use requirements. Flexible systems can adapt to new requirements, and may prevent physicians from being stuck with a system they don’t like. Avoiding unnecessary features will reduce prices and reduce implementation time to qualify for the 2011 payments.

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Ryan Ricks

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