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IT Everything

A witness to history in healthcare information technology.
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By Joseph Conn

Blog: Narrowing the gap toward Bush's goal

We probably won't know until late January the full-year numbers for 2012 on the EHR incentive payment program, but with three quarters of the year reporting, 2012 already is shaping up to be a banner year in health information technology.

Here's what I mean.

At the end of December 2011, the Medicare EHR incentive payment program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had been in operation making payments for just eight months, having started in May. By year end last year, the Medicaid program had been up and running for a full year, but only in a handful of states.

That said, in its December 2011 report, the CMS listed 29,314 physicians and other “eligible professionals” as having received payments either under Medicare as meaningful users of an EHR, or under Medicaid for having either adopted, implemented or upgraded to a certified EHR. The CMS also listed 604 hospitals as having received payments under Medicare, Medicaid or both in 2011. All told, the programs paid out a little over $2.5 billion last year.

Compare those numbers with the CMS report for September 2012, just 9 months later and the most current data available. The CMS now claims having made EHR incentive payments to 142,743 physicians and other eligible professionals under Medicare and Medicaid.

The CMS also says 3,044 “unique” hospitals have received payments under the Medicare, Medicaid or both EHR incentive payment programs.

The National Center for Health Statistics is expected to soon release its annual survey report on physician EHR adoption, which will give a second opinion on the CMS numbers. NCHS bases its survey work on an estimate that there are about 326,400 office-based physicians in the U.S.

According to the CMS, 118,161 physicians account for 83% of the eligible professionals paid under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive payment programs. The remaining 17% are nurse practitioners, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, chiropractors, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants.

So, one could expect the NCHS this year will find roughly a third of office-based physicians have full-featured EHRs—those EHRs on par with, if not precisely equivalent to, a federally certified EHR qualified for use in the incentive payment program. The NCHS estimated 16.8% of office-based physicians had a full-featured EHR in 2011.

Doing the math, comparing the December 2011 numbers from the CMS with those for September 2012, it means that there has been a three-fold increase in EPs successfully meeting the payment criteria for the two programs and a four-fold increase in the number of hospitals.

Back in 2004, President George W. Bush set a national goal of making a personal electronic medical record available for every American by 2014.

We’ll see if these explosive rates of EHR adoption continue in final three months of 2012. We may not achieve the former president’s goal of “every” American, but “a majority” of Americans now seems doable.

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