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3/18/2011
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EHR Adopters: Confident, Or Cocky?

Healthcare providers have an almost singular focus on putting electronic records in place this year and are highly optimistic about getting it done.

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Healthcare providers are doing whatever it takes to deploy electronic health record systems and all the related technology they'll need to qualify for a share of the $27 billion in U.S. federal stimulus funds set aside to encourage investment in health IT. Their top priorities this year all relate in some way to the government's financial incentive program, including meeting regulatory requirements, managing digital patient data, improving care, reducing costs, and increasing efficiencies.

It's not surprising that providers are focused on grabbing those subsidies. But it is surprising how confident they are that they'll be able to handle the task ahead.

Nearly six in 10 healthcare organizations still need to buy an EHR system or upgrade an existing one to qualify for the federal funds, according the InformationWeek Analytics' Healthcare IT Priorities Survey of 357 business tech- nology professionals at healthcare providers. And 62% of respondents who have EHRs or are planning them say they'll spend more than 20% of their annual IT budget on EHR projects this year. In other words, there's still a lot of heavy lifting for U.S. hospitals and doctors' practices to deploy systems that comply with federal guidelines.

Qualifying for the funds isn't easy. Healthcare providers must be using certified EHR systems that meet federal requirements, and they have to demonstrate that they're making "meaningful use" of those systems, complying with a laundry list of 20 requirements for medical practices and 19 for hospitals. And they have to do all this for 90 consecutive days before the end of next year.

Despite the complicated process, a surprising 83% of respondents who are evaluating, deploying, or have deployed EHRs are confident they'll meet the federal government's deadlines and qualify for incentive funds. Specifically, 52% of them say they're "very confident" and 31% are "somewhat confident".

A quarter of respondents anticipate no problems with EHR adoption in their organizations. That's a high number considering the potential issues that can come up when deploying an EHR system, such as negative reactions from physicians and staff, disruption to patient care, security and privacy mistakes, and shortages of technical expertise. It could very well be that providers underestimate how challenging meaningful use compliance is.

Lighthouse Institute, a New York nonprofit providing services to the blind and severely vision impaired, ran into a significant problem, and now it isn't sure whether it's even eligible for meaningful use incentives.

Lighthouse has a homegrown EHR system that it has been using for several years--one that's been recognized as the first Web-enabled e-record system based on best practices for treating visually impaired patients.

Even so, because the software is homegrown and not certified by the federal government, the nonprofit doesn't know whether it's eligible for the meaningful use incentives, says CIO Tom Nolan. Lighthouse is trying to decide whether to buy modules that have been certified, to add to its system and possibly make it compliant. However, in addition to not having a certified EHR system, Lighthouse doesn't expect to be able to comply with meaningful use's e-prescribing requirement, because its clinicians don't prescribe many drugs.

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