Surveys Signal Increased Interest in HITECH Funds

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david_blumenthalPutting radiologists on alert that the competition for HITECH funds may be more intense than previously thought, 81% of U.S. hospitals and 41% of office-based physicians currently plan to leverage federal incentive payments for health IT adoption and meaningful use, according to data released earlier this week by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

Released in tandem with the opening of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs registration period, the data was culled from surveys commissioned by ONC and executed in the course of regular annual surveillance by the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), an agency of HHS’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Perhaps even more telling, of hospitals whose survey responses indicated intentions to achieve meaningful use of EHRs and take advantage of incentive payments, 65% claimed they would enroll during Stage 1 of the Incentive Programs, in 2011–2012. About one third of all office-based physicians (32.4%) polled by the NCHS said they will do the same, with far fewer—14%—noting no plans to apply for meaningful use incentive payments.

Moreover, additional NCHS data indicates that significantly increasing numbers of primary care physicians have already adopted a basic EHR, with 29.6% having done so by 2010 compared to 19.8% in 2008. Although basic EHRs provide a beginning point for the use of electronic health records in physicians’ offices, most physicians must further upgrade their EHR systems or their use of technology in order to qualify for the incentive option.

In general, to attain eligibility for incentive payments under Medicare EHR Incentive Program, providers must achieve meaningful use of certified EHR technology per 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.

Authorized in the Health Information Technology Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) of 2009, such incentive payments will be made through the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Nonhospital-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.

Incentives Spurred Interest
David Blumenthal, MD, MPP, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, attributed the change to federal support for EHR adoption, as well as to the influence of leaders on the private practitioner and hospital sides alike. “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,” Blumenthal said. “However, I believe we are seeing the tide turn toward widespread and accelerating adoption and use of health IT.”

Blumenthal added that the meaningful use process has helped to foster providers’ growing willingness to adopt EHR systems, especially because it guides them through staged objectives for the productive use of EHRs while offering them assurance that 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.

He also pointed to the technical support programs created under the HITECH Act and now operating under ONC, which offer support to providers as they switch from paper records to EHRs. In particular, 62 Regional Extension Centers (RECs) across the nation will offer customized, on-the-ground assistance, especially for smaller-practice primary care providers and for small hospitals and clinics.

“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.”

Provider registration for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program and some