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More than half of the nation’s eligible doctors and hospitals have received federal incentive payments for adopting and using electronic health record systems, the Health and Human Services Department announced last month.
The administration set a goal to have electronic health record systems in 50 percent of Medicare- and Medicaid-eligible doctors’ offices and in 80 percent of eligible hospitals by the end of 2013. Both targets were met. Proponents of electronic health records argue they improve patient care and encourage greater health-information sharing among providers.
“We have reached a tipping point in adoption of electronic health records,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement last month.
By the end of April, more than 291,000 health care professionals and 3,800 hospitals had received incentive payments from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for proving they use health information technology in a meaningful way. In April, CMS reported having made $14.6 billion in incentive payments since the program launched in 2011.
“Health IT is tremendously important and transformative in what it can do to improve care and outcomes for patients,” said Dr. Howard Hays, acting director of the Indian Health Service’s Office of Information Technology. “It has been a huge transformation in the way we provide and document health care services.”
Hays said the agency doesn’t track metrics for how each facility uses electronic health records to improve care, but some of the hospitals using his agency’s electronic system have been recognized by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society for using the system to improve patient care. Hays said the agency released its system in 2005 at seven test sites, and that number has grown to 391.
Nationwide, health care providers that have not yet adopted electronic systems are working to do so before the incentive payments are replaced by penalties, or reductions in Medicare payments.
Under the sequester budget cuts, Medicare incentive payments for hospitals and health care professionals made after April 1 are being reduced by 2 percent. Medicaid incentive payments are exempt from the mandatory budget cuts.
Before the sequester, which took effect March 1, the HHS inspector general last year had raised concerns about CMS’ lack of oversight for its multibillion-dollar Medicare incentive program.
CMS is not required to verify the accuracy of information that recipients of incentives self-report. Verification “would strengthen [CMS] oversight of the ... incentive payments, [and] verifying self-reported information prior to payment could also reduce the need to identify and recover erroneous payments after they are made,” the report said.
CMS said it plans to audit select providers and hospitals after payment.