Singing the incentive blues

Give government IT leader Dr. David Blumenthal credit: He's using a broad array of new information technology—blogs, Twitter, webinars and now, YouTube to get the word out.

I'm hoping for an Office of National Coordinator rock opera. (Opportunity knocks for the song-writing Dr. Ross Martin.)

But new media aside, Blumenthal's message last week was larded with more than a dollop of good old-fashioned spin.

In the video, Blumenthal said:

"For their part, 41% of the nation's office-based physicians are also planning to take advantage of the incentive program, and 80% of those are planning to act during stage one. Only 14% of physicians say they will not act to become meaningful users of electronic health records. That means that a third of office-based physicians are already planning to act in the next two years."

Let's look a bit closer at those numbers for a second. First, they're from an ONC-supported mail and telephone survey of more than 6,000 physicians conducted last spring and summer by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Second, what Blumenthal didn't say was that nearly 45% of those same physicians surveyed marked a box, "Uncertain whether we will apply."

Maybe the health IT bandwagon picked a lot of stragglers in the six months since the survey was completed last July, so as not to worry.

But on the other hand, the final Stage 1 meaningful-usecriteria weren't released until July, the final month of this survey. So, maybe even more docs have looked since then at the high bar that CMS has set for them and said, 'To heck with it.' We heard just how tough meeting meaningful use is going to be for docs during testimony last week by some of the nation's most experienced EHR users.

When the federal government is handing out money, and nearly six docs in 10 say they're either unsure or flat out don't want to take it, that's evidence of a problem.

Blumenthal, federal health IT program planners, and members of Congress, who created the EHR incentive program, need to give some thought about why that's so.



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