Stimulus Funds Raise Hopes for Increased Adoption of EHRs


Provisions of the federal economic stimulus package could encourage more physicians and hospitals to invest in electronic health record systems, although at least one stakeholder says adoption will fall short of government projections, InformationWeek reports.

Details of Health IT Provisions in the Stimulus

The stimulus package includes $17 billion for incentive payments over five years for doctors and hospitals to adopt EHRs.  The legislation makes an additional $2 billion available immediately for loans and grants aimed at boosting health IT adoption and research into the use of  different systems.

The package also permits the government to reduce Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements by 1% annually from 2015 to 2018 if care providers do not implement some health IT applications by then. 

In the event that fewer than 75% of health care providers do not adopt EHRs by 2018, the law permits the government to reduce reimbursements by an additional 1% annually, up to 5%, for providers who have not adopted the technology, according to Janet Marchibroda, CEO of the eHealth Initiative (Kolbasuk McGee, InformationWeek, 3/14).

Benefits of EHRs

Supporters of health IT say EHRs help providers reduce medical errors, avoid repetitive tests and procedures and find more effective treatments.  Organizations that have seen some benefits from EHRs and other health IT applications include:

  • Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, where hospital officials say their EHR system has almost eliminated prescription errors;
  • Kaiser Permanente's Hawaii division, which saw a 26% drop in patient visits after Kaiser adopted an EHR system; and
  • New York City's public health department, which has given 800 health care providers access to an EHR system that helps the department track disease outbreaks and provides doctors with current health advisories (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 3/15).

Government Projections

The Congressional Budget Office projects that provisions of the stimulus package will result in almost 90% of U.S. physician offices and hospitals adopting EHRs in a few years.

However, John Glaser, CIO of Partners Healthcare in Boston, said it is more realistic to expect the stimulus to result in 60% to 70% of providers adopting EHRs by 2014 (InformationWeek, 3/14).

Potential Snags

Despite the funding boost for EHRs included in the stimulus, the technology still will face some hurdles.  On Friday, PCWorld highlighted what it sees as the chief obstacles to EHR adoption:

  • Reduced revenue for physicians resulting from fewer patient visits; and
  • The lack of standards for EHRs (Schwartz, PCWorld, 3/13).

Wisconsin Experience

In related news, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel highlighted implications of the stimulus package's health IT provisions for Wisconsin hospitals (Boulton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/14).

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