Many EHRs Not Ready For Meaningful Use

Study finds that only 11% of physicians have the technical capabilities to meet federal standards that define how an electronic health record system is to be used in a meaningful way.
12 EHR Vendors That Stand Out
12 EHR Vendors That Stand Out
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A new study of readiness to attest to--and receive incentive payments for--Meaningful Use of electronic health records (EHRs) may help explain the slow progress in actually meeting the standard in 2011.

About 91% of office-based physicians were eligible to apply for either Medicare or Medicaid bonuses for MU in 2011, the first year of the $27 billion federal EHR incentive program, according to researchers from the Researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While 51% of doctors intended to apply for Meaningful Use money, just 11% of all office-based physicians both intended to apply and had EHR systems capable of achieving most of the requirements.

"Our results show that a great discrepancy exists between physicians' intentions to apply for incentives and their readiness to meet even two-thirds of the core objectives for Meaningful Use," the researchers wrote in an analysis published in the policy journal Health Affairs.

Using data from the 2011 mail survey supplement to the CDC's National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, the researchers found precious few physicians with the computing capabilities to achieve even 10 of the 15 core requirements for Stage 1 Meaningful Use. "Because the survey did not cover the other five objectives, this figure is likely to overestimate readiness," the article said.

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Similarly, the researchers were able to assess whether physicians had technology to meet only three of the 10 menu items. Providers must adhere to five of 10 objectives to earn EHR bonuses in Stage 1.

National health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari reported that more than 20,000 physicians and other individual "eligible professionals," as well as 1,200 hospitals, had received $1.8 billion in incentive payments through November 2011. However, 2,868 hospitals and 154,362 individual providers had registered their intent to seek Meaningful Use with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and state Medicaid agencies as of Nov. 30.

The situation may be improving, though. The researchers said that 43% of physicians intending to apply for Meaningful Use but not technologically ready were planning on installing a new EHR system within the next 18 months. Meanwhile, early 2012 numbers seem promising.

Through March 2012, Medicare alone had paid out nearly $2.4 billion in incentives to 911 hospitals and 44,014 eligible professionals, according to CMS. Medicaid payments to date approached $2.1 billion, to nearly 30,000 professionals and about 1,750 hospitals.

Hospitals can participate in both the Medicare and Medicaid Meaningful Use programs, while individuals must choose one. The hospital program began in October 2010, while eligible providers have been able to meet Meaningful Use since January 2011. Stage 2 is being delayed until 2014.

In the study, there were substantial variations by state, physician age, practice size, and medical specialty. "Although the federal Medicare incentives will be available through 2016, and Medicaid incentives through 2021, widespread gaps in readiness throughout the states illustrate the challenges physicians face in meeting the federal schedule for the incentive programs," the report said.

The 2012 InformationWeek Healthcare IT Priorities Survey finds that grabbing federal incentive dollars and meeting pay-for-performance mandates are the top issues facing IT execs. Find out more in the new, all-digital Time To Deliver issue of InformationWeek Healthcare. (Free registration required.)