Office-Based Physicians Home In on Federal Incentives

Nearly half of all office-based physicians intend to take advantage of federal incentive payments for adoption and meaningful use of certified EHR technology, according to new government data.

This article originally appeared on HCPLive.com.

Nearly half of all office-based physicians intend to take advantage of federal incentive payments for adoption and meaningful use of certified EHR technology, according to new government data.

David Blumenthal, MD, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, said the figures from the survey represent a reversal of the low interest in electronic health records (EHR) adoption in previous years. “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 healthcare providers remained low,” said Blumenthal in a statement.

The data come from surveys commissioned by ONC that were carried out in the course of regular annual surveillance by the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), an agency of the CDC.

The NCHS survey found that 41% of office-based physicians are currently planning to achieve “meaningful use” of certified EHR technology and apply for the incentive payments. Four-fifths of those surveyed, or 32% of all office-based physicians, responded that they will enroll during Stage 1 of the programs. Only 14% of respondents said they were not planning to apply for the federal incentives.

Additional survey data from NCHS show that significantly increasing numbers of primary care physicians already have adopted a basic EHR, with the number increasing to 29.6% of physicians last year from 19.8% in 2008. Basic EHRs provide a beginning point for use of the technology 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, which were authorized in the HITECH Act, will be made through the Medicare and Medicaid programs. High rates of adoption and meaningful use could result in as much as $27 billion in incentive payments over 10 years.

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.

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

“We are pleased to see this evidence of an enthusiastic early response, and we believe participation will continue to grow, especially as the Nation’s physicians become more familiar with this one-time opportunity to improve care while helping to offset the costs of adopting EHR systems,” said Donald Berwick, MD, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

To qualify for incentive payments, under the Medicare EHR Incentive Program, providers must achieve meaningful use of certified EHR technology, under regulations issued by CMS and ONC. Medicaid providers can receive their first year’s incentive payment for adopting, implementing, and upgrading certified EHR technology but must demonstrate meaningful use in subsequent years in order to qualify for additional payments.

Blumenthal said the meaningful use process has contributed to the increased willingness of providers to adopt EHR systems, especially because it guides providers through staged objectives for the productive use of EHRs, and because providers can now be assured that Complete EHRs and EHR Modules certified under ONC criteria by ONC-authorized testing and certification bodies can be relied upon to support the meaningful use objectives.

“We know that adoption of EHRs and conversion to EHR-based care is expensive and challenging, especially for smaller providers,” Blumenthal said. “With HITECH, we are able to provide unprecedented funding and technical support programs to help providers make the transition and to help our nation achieve the improvements in health care quality, safety and cost effectiveness EHRs will bring about.”

For more information, access the NCHS survey and the AHA survey results.