Surveys show interest in EHR incentives

About four-fifths of the nation’s hospitals and 41 percent of physicians are aiming for federal stimulus dollars for using electronic health records (EHRs), according to new survey results released by President Obama’s health information technology czar.

Starting this year, hospitals and office-based physicians can receive Medicare and Medicaid incentives for the “meaningful use” of EHR technology in accordance with standards established by the Medicare agency. The stimulus package enacted in the first month of the Obama administration makes available up to $45,000 in Medicare and $63,000 in Medicaid incentives to office-based physicians, while hospitals stand to receive millions for the adoption and use of EHR technology. Registration for the Medicare and some Medicaid programs began earlier this month.

About two-thirds (65 percent) of hospitals and 32 percent of office-based physicians plan to enroll in meaningful use programs by the end of 2012 in order to receive the maximum incentives, according to survey results announced Thursday morning. Fewer federal dollars will be available to hospitals and doctors that wait to adopt EHR technology, and failure to meaningfully use EHRs starting in 2015 will result in Medicare penalties.

EHR technology is meant to improve healthcare quality by making it easier for care providers to share information, but the technology’s high cost has often been cited as a main reason for the healthcare community’s reluctance to adopt it. Dr. David Blumenthal, the national coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), said Wednesday morning that the stimulus incentives are encouraging providers purchase EHR systems.  

“For years we have known that electronic health records would improve care for patients and bring about greater cost effectiveness in our health sector, yet adoption rates by health care providers remained low,” he said in a statement. “In 2009, Congress and the President authorized major new federal support for EHR adoption and use, and in combination with medical professional and hospital leadership. I believe we are seeing the tide turn toward widespread and accelerating adoption and use of health IT."

The American Hospital Association conducted the survey on hospitals' EHR plans, while the National Center on Health Statistics reported the office-based physician data.