If you have been following the news, you have probably heard about federal money set aside to encourage physicians to adopt electronic health records (EHR). Although EHRs are widely regarded as beneficial, physicians have been reluctant to adopt them. There are many reasons why implementations are lagging; chief among them seems to be the high price tags.

Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help overcome the price barrier. The law allocates $19.2 Billion to help reimburse physicians and hospitals for purchasing EHR systems. Applicants for the stimulus money must meet three criteria.
First, they must be on the “eligible professionals” list. The Social Security Act (§1861(r)), defines physicians as “medical doctors, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, and chiropractors.” However, hospital-based physicians are not eligible for the incentives; hospitals are reimbursed as a unit under separate guidelines. Physical therapists are also ineligible.

Second, physicians must purchase a “certified EHR” system. Although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have not yet adopted certification requirements, the Health Information Technology Policy Committee has made some basic recommendations. A certified EHR system will have to be capable of submitting electronic prescriptions, checking for drug interactions, maintaining an up-to-date problem list, and share data with other EHR systems. Most EHR systems should be capable of meeting these requirements.

Third, physicians must utilize their EHR systems according to the “meaningful use” guidelines. These requirement guarantee that physicians must actively use the important functionality in their systems, such as electronic prescribing, checking for drug interactions, and formulary compliance. These features will make medical practices more efficient and help reduce the growing cost of healthcare.

Once physicians meet these requirements, physicians could receive up to $44,000 per provider under Medicare, based on their allowable charges. Medicaid offers up to $66,000 per provider if at least 30% of a physician’s patients are on Medicaid. Physicians can also qualify for the Medicaid program at 20% if they are pediatricians.

The reimbursements start in 2011, so physicians need to get on track as soon as possible. Demand is already increasing, and many of the large vendors have installation back-logs. Implementation for the more complicated systems can take up to six months, not counting any back logs. Physicians need to find a simple, easy-to-implement system and start purchasing as soon as possible if they want to qualify for the 2011 payment.

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Ryan Ricks

Security Officer