U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a report showing that doctors’ adoption of health information technology (IT) doubled in two years. HHS also announced new actions to speed the use of health IT in doctors’ offices and hospitals nationwide, primarily by extending the meaningful use Stage 2 qualification deadline to 2014.
According to Sebelius, those who do participate in the program until 2012 can now wait to meet these new standards until 2014 and still be eligible for the same incentive payment. The new administrative actions, which were made possible by the HITECH Act, will make it easier for doctors and other health care professionals to receive incentive payments for adopting and meaningfully using health IT according to HHS.
“When doctors and hospitals use health IT, patients get better care and we save money,” Sebelius said in a statement. “We’re making great progress, but we can’t wait to do more. Too many doctors and hospitals are still using the same record-keeping technology as Hippocrates. Today, we are making it easier for health care providers to use new technology to improve the health care system for all of us and create more jobs.”
Under the current requirements, eligible doctors and hospitals that begin participating in the Medicare EHR (electronic health record) Incentive Programs this year would have to meet new standards for the program in 2013. This has now been shifted back one year.
In addition to improving the health care system, data indicate that the national transition to health IT is creating jobs. Over 50,000 health IT-related jobs have been created since the enactment of the HITECH Act. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of health IT jobs across the country is expected to increase by 20 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations through 2018.
These policy changes are accompanied by greater outreach efforts that will provide more information to doctors and hospitals about best practices and to vendors whose products allow health care providers to meaningfully use EHRs. For example, in communities across the country HHS will target outreach, education and training to Medicare eligible professionals that have registered in the EHR incentive program but have not yet met the requirements for meaningful use. Meaningful use is the necessary foundation for all impending payment changes involving patient-centered medical homes, accountable care organizations, bundled payments, and value-based purchasing.
These efforts will complement existing outreach efforts to doctors and hospitals including the Obama Administration’s work to create a nationwide network of 62 Regional Extension Centers. The extension centers are comprised of local nonprofits that provide guidance and resources to help eligible health care providers participate in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs and meaningfully use health IT.
In addition to the news about meaningful use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a survey found 52 percent of office-based physicians in the U.S. now intend to take advantage of the incentive payments available for doctors and hospitals through the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. EHR incentive payments for eligible health care professionals can total as much as $44,000 under the Medicare EHR Incentive Program and $63,750 under the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program.
The CDC data also show the percentage of physicians who have adopted basic electronic health records in their practice has doubled from 17 to 34 percent between 2008 and 2011 (with the percent of primary care doctors using this technology nearly doubling from 20 to 39 percent).