The Time to Invest in an EHR for Your Medical Practice is Now

July 13, 2013

In 2014, the Affordable Care Act takes full effect. In 2015, penalties begin for not using EHRs. So perhaps now is the time to take a serious look at the technology.

As the date of full implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) draws near (January 1, 2014), physicians are becoming acutely aware of the growing importance of electronic health records (EHRs) to the success of their private practices.

According to  HHS, many physicians have already made their move. The percentage of physicians who’ve implemented an EHR system jumped from 17 percent in 2008 to over 50 percent today. Much of this increase can be attributed to the 2015 deadline for EHR system adoption as stated in the 2009 HITECH Act. However, the reform law also impacted the EHR implementation process by incorporating more sophisticated uses of health IT as central requirements.

What happens if I don’t make the switch?

The U.S. government has already defined a set of penalties for healthcare providers who fail to meet the deadline. Physicians who cannot show that they’ve introduced EHR systems into their practices by the year 2015 will see a one percent reduction in Medicare reimbursements that year, followed by a two percent  reduction in 2016, a three percent  reduction in 2017, and up to a 95 percent reduction in reimbursements down the line. You can avoid incurring these penalties by integrating an EMR system into your practice and then demonstrating “meaningful use” by meeting a set of stated objectives by 2015.

So I don’t have to act until 2015?

Try not to put off making this transition, as CMS has announced Medicare and Medicaid financial incentive payments for implementing EHR systems ahead of the deadline.

The following professionals will qualify for Medicare incentives, provided they can prove meaningful use: doctors of medicine or osteopathy, doctors of dental surgery or dental medicine, doctors of podiatry, doctors of optometry, and chiropractors. Each practitioner in your practice can qualify for separate Medicare incentives, which will be broken down into a series of annual scheduled payments. If 2013 is the first year in which you can prove meaningful use, then you will receive $15,000. Subsequent payouts are $12,000 in 2014; $8,000 in 2015; and $4,000 in 2016 for a total of $39,000. If you do not quality until 2014, your annual payments shrink to $12,000, $8,000, and $4,000 for a three-year total of only $24,000. And total payout amounts increase by 10 percent if you practice in a geographic Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). So the sooner you’re able to implement these systems, the better.

If you’re worried you won’t be able to prove meaningful use by the end of this year, then consider applying for Medicaid incentives instead. This program requires that you adopt or implement an EHR system for a first-year payout. After opting for Medicaid incentives, you will receive $21,250 during the year in which a new system is implemented, followed by up to five annual payments of $8,500 for each year you can prove meaningful use, for a total amount of $63,750. The following professionals are eligible for Medicaid incentives: physicians (primarily doctors of medicine and doctors of osteopathy), nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, dentists, and physician assistants in certain cases.

By implementing an EHR system ahead of the 2015 deadline, you and your staff will also have more time to evaluate and adapt to the new system. A gradual implementation is less likely to affect the quality of service that you provide for your patients, while still allowing you to bring your records into the modern era.

When you are ready to apply for Medicare or Medicaid incentives, you can do so here.