EHRs and Meaningful Use: The Ongoing Debate

January 27, 2011
Cancer Network Editors

Recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) shows that an increasing number of primary care physicians have already adopted a basic EHR, but most physicians would need to further upgrade their EHR systems or their use of the systems in order to qualify for “meaningful use” incentive payments.

Recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) shows that an increasing number of primary care physicians have already adopted a basic EHR-the number has risen from 19.8 percent in 2008 to 29.6 percent in 2010.  Basic EHRs provide a beginning point for use of electronic health records in physician offices, but most physicians would need to further upgrade their EHR systems or their use of the systems in order to qualify for “meaningful use” incentive payments.

Incentive payments for the adoption and “meaningful use” of certified EHR technology were authorized in the Health Information Technology Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) of 2009. The payments are made through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and if high rates of adoption and meaningful use occur, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology predicts that these incentives could result in as much as $27 billion in payments to physicians over the next ten years.

According to the ONC, the perceived long-term benefits of implementing EHRs will be the following:

• Improved care coordination
• Reduced healthcare disparities
• Engaged patients and their families
• Improved population and public health
• Ensuring adequate privacy and security

However, there is ongoing debate over the perceived long-term benefits of universally adopted EHRs versus the immediate expense to physicians-both in terms of finances and time-and this means that the development of guidelines for “meaningful use” have been hotly debated.
The detailed definition of “meaningful use” will be rolled out in three stages over a period of time until 2015. Thus far only stage one has been published (here). If you’d like to help shape the stage two definition, the Health Information Technology Policy Committee (HITPC) is currently inviting input here.

Incentives
According to the ONC, non-hospital-based physicians and other eligible professionals can obtain incentive payments of as much as $44,000 under Medicare or $63,750 under Medicaid.  Under both Medicare and Medicaid, eligible hospitals may receive millions of dollars for implementing and meaningfully using certified EHR technology.

Provider registration for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program and some Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs opened Jan. 3, 2011.  Most states will allow provider registration to begin for their Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs during the spring and summer of 2010.

According to a survey conducted by the ONC, 81 % of hospitals and 41 % of practices will apply for federal incentive payments for adopting EHR technology. The findings, released as registration opened for the first round of incentive payments, further demonstrated that 65 % of hospitals and 32.4 % of practices plan to register for Stage one incentive payments in 2011-2012.

In order to find out how to qualify for incentives, go here.

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