Helping Hand: Spurring Doctors Towards Automation

June 17, 2013
Tucked away inside President Obama’s proposed fiscal 2013 year budget are some hopeful statistics around electronic health record adoption, particularly recent figures around office-based physicians' EHR adoption, and the assist that doctors are getting from the federal government's regional extension centers (RECs). Are we reaching an important turning point on the long journey towards the new healthcare?

Tucked away inside President Obama’s proposed fiscal 2013 year budget are some hopeful statistics around electronic health record adoption. On page 111 of the White House’s “Budget in Brief” is documentation of some encouraging developments in automation adoption. Along with the fiscal budget request for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), which is set at $66 million, $5 million above fiscal year 2012, is this statement: “ONC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are working closely together to register eligible professionals and hospitals to qualify for incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid which are designed to encourage providers to adopt and meaningfully use EHRs. With incentive payments beginning in January 2011, ONC and CMS estimate 80,000 providers will have achieved meaningful use and received payments by the end of FY 2012.”

Also in the White House’s budget request, on the same page, is this statement: “The ONC Health IT Regional Extension Centers (RECs) has made great strides towards the program’s goal to assist 100,000 providers adopt and demonstrate meaningful use of EHRs by FY 2014. To date, over 130,000 providers have registered to work with an REC. In a significant milestone, roughly one-third of all primary care providers and more than two-thirds of all rural providers in the country are now working with ONC grantees.”

What’s more, the document noted, “As of January 2012, nearly 60,000 REC-assisted providers had implemented EHRs with e-prescribing and quality reporting capabilities and over 5,000 of these providers have achieved meaningful use. The RECs will continue to assist these providers with adopting and meaningfully using EHRs in their practices,” it adds.
Sure, 5,000 is a relatively small number, considering that there are about 954,000 physicians altogether practicing in the United States right now. Still, the fact that over 130,000 physicians and other clinicians have registered for a REC—now that’s a significant number. And it not only indicates that more and more physicians are getting serious about EHR adoption, and presumably about meaningful use; it also shows that intelligently developed and strategically deployed federal programs can move the needle on important public policy objectives.

And, while inevitably, getting nearly a million doctors through EHR adoption, when numerically the majority remain in small or at best midsized practices, is a humongous undertaking, the development of the RECs, along with the meaningful use program under HITECH, is an enormous stimulant. Years from now, we’ll look back on this period in time as a primitive, early phase in the transition to the fully automated, automation-supported healthcare delivery system of the near future.

And, with the leveraging of federal dollars, intelligently applied, more and more physicians, even solo practitioners and those in the classic “onesie-twosie” practices, as they are often called, will flip the necessary switch into their electronic future. I, for one, can’t wait. And honestly, will anyone miss the inefficiencies and the patient safety gaps of the gradually fading paper-based care delivery world?

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