As of December 31, 2011, 61% of hospitals and 33% of eligible healthcare providers registered for the electronic health records meaningful use incentive program through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Total payments through January 2012 is over $3 billion.
However, not all doctors who are considering adopting electronic health record systems are thinking about some of the additional work that they will have to do in order to reap the full benefits of these medical office upgrades. Many doctors understand how digital records will help their offices to become more efficient, and most have heard about incentive payments from the federal government, but there's not quite as much buzz about what providers will have to do to receive those incentives, and that means some doctors may be unprepared for "proving" their eligibility for incentive money.
Meeting Stage 1 Versus Stage 2 Requirements
The Computer Services Corporation shows Stage 2 meaningful use requirements may present significant barriers for medical providers to meet in comparison to Stage 1, which is based on partial implementation qualification. For example, in Stage 1 providers have to demonstrate three months of use whereas Stage 2 calls for a full year of operational use.
Government Incentives for EHRs
According to the HITECH act of 2009, doctors can receive quite a lot of money for implementing EHRs in their practices. Qualifying providers can receive checks for tens of thousands of dollars over a period of several years. This gives doctors an additional reason to invest in this kind of technology and helps them to recoup some of the money spent in training and implementation. These payments also make it more likely for the average medical office to profit from switching over to electronic medical records over the long-term, where digital upgrades will lower costs for storage and help to contribute to more efficient patient care. But according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, providers will only get these payments if they meet certain criteria.
Meaningful Use Objectives
Doctors who want to apply to receive federal incentives for HITECH-approved upgrades will need to make sure that their uses of this technology meet certain objectives outlined in recent HHS documents. As part of their application process to get the money, doctors will need to "attest" to their compliance with meaningful use objectives.
Specifically, the federal government has compiled 25 meaningful use objectives for care providers, or 23 requirements for hospitals. A specific number of these requirements must be met, where the HHS has developed a specific set of "core acquirements" that are mandatory.
Doctors can get more up-to-date information from currently maintained resources at the centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or on other HHS web sites. The key is for physicians to be able to anticipate having to deal with these requirements including mandatory application certifications such as ONC classification and SNOMED CT.
Will your third-party Billing or Admin Service Stand With You to Attest to Meaningful Use?
Doctors can meet meaningful use requirements by themselves or with third-party services that help administrate medical billing and other aspects of medical office administration. One question that doctors should ask, though, is to what extent available third-party services will assist with all of the legwork that needs to be done to meet meaningful use requirements. For example, some of these requirements can be addressed within the specific methodology of a third-party service. Another way that a third-party service can help is through offering doctors resources like a "fact sheet" or other documentation that will help them to claim their compliance with this federal requirement. This is something to think about when signing up with a third-party service, or for independent practices considering their strategies for administration in coming years.