A Message from the ONC Website - Dr. David Blumenthal, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology
January 13, 2010
The tide is turning.
An increasing number of office-based physician practices report having an electronic health record, according to a recent survey. Survey respondents also reported high levels of interest in adopting electronic health records and health information technology.
The survey [PDF - 220 KB] was conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), an agency of the HHS’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More and more physicians are putting a private and secure electronic framework in place to realize long-term improvements in quality of care, efficiency, and health costs. But the presence of an EHR does not make a physician a meaningful user.
An electronic health record, as defined in the survey, could have been just a “basic” EHR—one that stores patient demographic information, patient problem lists, clinical notes, laboratory and imaging results, and orders for prescriptions. Basic EHRs are not capable of being used to meet the requirements of meaningful use.
Fortunately, additional data commissioned by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and carried out in the course of regular annual surveillance by the NCHS and by the American Hospital Association (AHA) provide further encouragement that EHR adoption is about to pick up speed.
The NCHS survey found that 41 percent of office-based physicians are currently planning to achieve meaningful use of EHRs and apply for incentive payments. Four-fifths of these, or about a third of all office-based physicians (32.4 percent), plan to apply this year.
The AHA survey found that 81 percent of acute care non-federal hospitals plan to achieve meaningful use of EHRs and apply for incentive payments. About two-thirds of hospitals (65 percent) plan to enroll during Stage 1 of the Incentive Programs, in 2011-2012.
At ONC we are gratified that such sizeable percentages of physicians and hospitals intend to take the plunge—and to take the plunge sooner rather than later.
Acting early (in Stage 1) means obtaining maximum funding through the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. Physicians and other eligible professionals can qualify for incentive payments totaling as much as $44,000 through Medicare or $63,750 through Medicaid. Hospitals can qualify for millions of dollars of incentive payments for implementing and becoming meaningful users of EHR technology.
The registration process is now open for health care providers to obtain significant incentive payments for the adoption and meaningful use of certified EHRs.
We recognize that EHR adoption and meaningful use are hard work and a big investment, especially for small primary care practices, where the vast majority of physicians work and where most of patient care is coordinated and documented. Many of these providers still need to learn about the opportunity they have.
Now is the time. Unprecedented resources, including the EHR incentive and technical assistance programs created under HITECH, are available. Sixty-two Regional Extension Centers (RECs) across the nation are prepared to offer customized, on-the-ground assistance. And the Health IT Workforce Development Program is training talented professionals to help providers implement and manage their health IT systems. Moreover, medical and hospital professional organizations are lighting the way.
Rest assured there are also regulations in place to make sure that information stored in an EHR is protected. The same Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy and security protections that apply to paper records also apply to EHRs.
Never again will the same level of resources and talent be devoted to helping providers make the switch to health IT.
The incipient surge in EHR adoption is galvanizing, especially for those of us who are committed to making the transition from paper-based medical records to EHRs as seamless and as successful as possible for every provider. ONC will continue to offer encouragement and support.
For more information on the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, visit http://www.cms.gov/EHRIncentivePrograms. Providers can also find REC contact information at http://healthit.hhs.gov/rec. Learn about the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules by visiting http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/.
David Blumenthal, MD, MPPNational Coordinator for Health Information Technology