HHS to pay physicians for EHR utilization

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has launched a new five-year demonstration program to financially reward physicians who use EHR systems in their practices.

The program aims to entice more doctors, especially those in small- to medium-sized practices, to digitize their health records, and therefore, drive the U.S. healthcare industry closer to President Bush’s stated goal of a nationwide adoption of interoperable health records by 2014.

The new program is “a very important milestone, a pathway to a system of healthcare to provide better quality of care at lower costs for all Americans,” said HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt.

The HHS reported that only about 10 percent of U.S. doctor practices, and only 5 percent in solo practices, are currently using EHR systems.

Conducted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the program will be open to participation for up to 1,200 physician practices beginning in the spring of 2008.  Over a five-year period, it will provide financial incentives to physician groups that have three to five doctors in the practices and use certified EHRs to meet certain clinical measures. A financial bonus will be provided each year based on a physician group’s score on a standardized survey that assesses the specific EHR functions a group employs to support the delivery of care.

During the five-year project, HHS estimates that 3.6 million consumers will be directly affected as their primary care physicians adopt certified EHRs in their practices. CMS is also encouraging private insurers to offer similar incentives for EHR adoption.

“Broad adoption of EHRs has the potential not only to improve the quality of care provided, but also to transform the way medicine is practiced and delivered,” Leavitt said. “We are looking for 1,200 physician practice pioneers who will help us move healthcare toward a system that delivers better quality at lower cost for more Americans.”