Health IT

Medicare incentives speed adoption of electronic health records

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The adoption of electronic health records by eligible Medicare providers is on the rise partly due to government incentives, according to a report by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Almost 75 percent of office-based physicians have adopted EHR systems as of 2012.

Health IT spans a range of technologies, including EHRs, personal health records, remote monitoring devices and mobile health applications. "By enabling health information to be used more effectively and efficiently throughout our health system, health IT has the potential to empower providers and patients," reads the report, which was submitted to Congress in June.

Monetary incentives for adopting EHRs and meeting specific benchmarks, called Meaningful Use, are allocated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The incentives were created by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which was part of the 2009 stimulus package. ONC, which is part of the Health and Human Services Department, is charged with guiding healthcare providers as they "meaningfully use" certified electronic health record technology.

"Since the passage of the HITECH Act, there had been substantial growth in adoption of EHRs and other EHR technology related to Meaningful Use requirements from the EHR Incentive Programs, which has the potential to improve our nation's health," the report said.

Electronic prescriptions are on the rise as well, with the number of total electronic prescribers growing from approximately 250,000 at the end of 2010 to approximately 480,000 at the end of 2012. The eRx program provides incentive for eligible Medicare providers who accurately report successful e-prescribing activity between 2009 and 2013.

But EHR systems have yet to be totally mainstreamed.

"Despite recent progress in increasing the adoption of health IT, providers still face challenges," the report said. "The top barriers to EHR adoption reported by office-based physicians include the cost of purchasing an EHR system and concerns regarding loss of productivity."

Two of the top three barriers reported by office-based physicians who haven't adopted EHR system pertain to costs: The cost to purchase a system and the ongoing costs of maintenance. The physicians also reported fearing a loss of productivity.

About the Author

Reid Davenport is an FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.

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