More Docs, Hospitals Get EHR Payments

In one of the most dramatic comebacks in health care, 80% of hospitals and over 50% of doctors’ offices will receive incentive payments this year for installing electronic health record systems that meet government meaningful use standards, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

It was only a few months ago that the New England Journal of Medicine warned that doctors and hospitals were very behind in their EHR upgrades (

This is something HHS also notes. In 2008, only 17% of physicians and 9% of hospitals were eligible for incentive payments.

“We have reached a tipping point in adoption of electronic health records,” says HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

There are 15 core objectives that must be met in order for the government to underwrite up to $44,000 in new technology spending per physician.

As of May 1, more than 291,000 health care professionals, mostly physicians, and over 3,800 hospitals have received incentive payments.

“In four years, they’ve made more progress then in the previous 20 years,” Farzad Mostashari, the national coordinator for health information technology at HHS, tells USA Today.

The incentive payments are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“the stimulus”).

HHS in its announcement notes that “Health IT systems give doctors, hospitals, and other providers the ability to better coordinate care and reduce errors and readmissions that can cost more money and leave patients less healthy.”

All well and good, but some experts wonder how much the Affordable Care Act, which fosters EHR use, might bump into other laws.

They worry that HIPAA and state confidentiality laws are getting in the way of efforts to coordinate care across sites of service.

“I respect patients’ need for privacy, but do you really care if someone knows that you broke your arm and went to the hospital?” Craig Garner, a lawyer and health care consultant, told us last month in our cover story on problems with ACA implementation. “Historically our country has cut back rights in times of war. If we really are in a war on health care, let’s get rid of HIPAA and HITECH. They’re obstacles to health care reform.”