As our world has become increasingly paperless in recent years, the health industry has followed suit.  One illustration of this trend is the growing adoption of health IT by health care professionals, and in particular, the implementation of electronic health record (“EHR”) systems.  This transition was largely due to the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (the “HITECH Act”) in 2009, which authorized the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) to provide financial incentives to certain health care professionals to adopt and meaningfully use certified EHRs. 

The HITECH Act also requires reports to be issued to Congress to track the nation-wide adoption of health IT.  In June 2013, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”) issued a report to Congress titled “Update on the Adoption of Health Information Technology and Related Efforts to Facilitate the Electronic Use and Exchange of Health Information” (the “Report”).  The Report contains significant insight into the transition of the health industry towards health IT, identifies challenges that will likely accompany continued adoption, and describes government programs designed to facilitate the transition.

The Report contains substantial data illustrating the recent progress of EHR adoption.  According to the Report, between 2009 and 2012, physician adoption of EHRs doubled.  Specifically, as of 2012, 72% of office-based physicians had adopted an EHR system, and 44% of non-federal acute care hospitals had adopted a basic EHR system. 

Health care professionals who have not begun to use EHRs reported various reasons for their hesitation to embrace health IT.  Top barriers to EHR adoption reported by office-based physicians include the cost of purchasing an EHR system as well as concerns regarding loss of productivity associated with learning a new routine.  Other roadblocks include cost of maintaining an EHR system, proper workforce training, and adequacy of technical support.

The ONC has introduced and is working on developing additional initiatives to make further health IT adoption more manageable for health care professionals.  Many health care professionals are aware of the CMS incentive payments available for demonstrating meaningful use of EHRs.  The ONC has also developed a Regional Extension Center (“REC”) program, which consists of 62 non-profit organizations in addition to a national Health Information Technology Research Center that collectively provide health care professionals with technical assistance and best practices related to utilizing an EHR system.  Medicare providers working with an REC have been more than 2.3 times more likely to receive an incentive payment for meaningful use than those who did not enlist an REC’s assistance.

Moving forward, it is clear that increasing implementation of health IT is a strong government priority.  ONC and other federal offices and agencies continue to monitor the transition process and identify challenges in order to best facilitate adoption.

Posted by Leah Roffman

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