Better Living Through Well Being
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Doctors Should Be Wary of EHR Vendors' Stimulus Fund 'Guarantees'
Lincoln, Nebraska

Amid widespread speculation over proposed incentives for the adoption of electronic medical records (EMR/EHR) systems, physicians and medical practice managers should be wary of vendors promising guaranteed receipt of stimulus funds by their customers.

According to practice management expert Mark Hollis, EMR/EHR vendors that promise physicians automatic qualification and receipt of any financial windfall can, in reality, offer no more guarantee of actually receiving cash than simply purchasing a lottery ticket guarantees one to be a winner. And, he says, physicians should instead focus on the overall benefits of improved practice efficiency, ease of use, and a higher quality of care when selecting an EMR/EHR system for their office.

Financial Incentives Spur Interest in EMR

In late December, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released preliminary documents aimed at outlining the steps physicians, clinics and hospitals must take to qualify for their share of the more than $17 billion available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

With individual providers eligible for up to $44,000 each under certain Medicare participation requirements and $65,000 under Medicaid, as well as the threat of penalties in future years in the form of reduced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for not adopting some EHR technology, the stakes seem high for physicians in a time when skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums and the cost of collecting from uninsured patients cut deeply into revenue.

"Many physicians have been led to believe that merely purchasing a certified EMR solution will guarantee them a much-needed financial shot in the arm in the form of a stimulus payout," said Hollis, president and co-founder of MacPractice, the leading provider of practice management and clinical software for Macs. "I wish that were true, but it's simply not the case. There will be specific criteria to meet, and unfortunately, many physicians, especially non-primary care providers, will not qualify even if they do purchase an EMR system, regardless of the vendor they choose."

Cutting through the Confusion

In order to qualify for stimulus funds, the onus is ultimately on a doctor to demonstrate 'meaningful use' of a certified EMR solution. The problem, Hollis says, is that the federal government has yet to specify the software certification standard that will be used and has not yet finalized specifics on the exact requirements for doctors to achieve meaningful use. The ONC has never stated that any prior or current certification by the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) will qualify an EHR system in advance or in lieu of the upcoming certification standard.

"Certainly, physicians and medical facilities should consider EMR systems that have received one of a number of CCHIT certifications," Hollis said. "But, merely buying CCHIT certified software won't guarantee that you'll qualify for the incentive funds. As a matter of fact, KLAS, an industry research firm, reports that 62% of offices surveyed that plan to replace their software presently have CCHIT certified products. The best EMR systems offer incredible value in their ability to streamline practice efficiency and improve patient care, and some are even easy for a small practice to learn and use. These factors should still play the primary role in determining which EMR solution is the best fit."

While Final Rules on a standard for certification and the definition of "meaningful use" are expected in June, Hollis says he won't be surprised by a delay. However, with all the debate over healthcare reform in the past year, nearly all parties can agree on one thing: the adoption of EMR technology has the potential to dramatically cut costs, improve the quality of healthcare, reduce the risk of tragic errors and eliminate unnecessary duplication of procedures and tests.

Core EMR Benefits Should Remain Primary Concern

"EMR technology is a win for all parties if properly delivered and implemented: it can improve efficiency and productivity while reducing operating expenses for physicians; it can ensure better, more comprehensive care at a lower cost for patients; and it can help reduce the costly burden of providing care for private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid," Hollis said. "But, it's so important for a doctor to find a straightforward, reputable, honest EMR solution provider with an easy-to-use system and avoid getting sucked into bogus claims of guaranteed incentive funds."


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