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Administration Takes New Steps To Encourage Health IT Investment

Mon, 12/05/2011 - 6:49am

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently released a report showing that the adoption of health information technology (IT) has doubled over the last two years. This technology is seen as a way to help improve access to care, help coordinate treatments, measure outcomes and reduce costs. New administrative actions have been made possible by the HITECH Act that will make it easier for doctors and other healthcare professionals to receive incentive payments for adopting and using health IT.

HHS officials have also stated that the transition to health IT is creating jobs. Over 50,000 health IT-related jobs have been created since the enactment of the HITECH Act, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of health IT jobs across the country is expected to increase 20 percent by 2018.

HHS also announced plans for simplifying adoption. Under the current requirements, eligible doctors and hospitals that begin participating in the Medicare EHR (electronic health record) Incentive Programs this year would have to meet new standards for the program in 2013. If they did not participate in the program until 2012, they could wait to meet these new standards until 2014 and still be eligible for the same incentive payment. To encourage faster adoption, HHS intends to allow doctors and hospitals to adopt health IT this year, without meeting the new standards until 2014. Doctors who act quickly can also qualify for incentive payments in 2011 as well as 2012.

These policy changes are accompanied by greater outreach efforts that will provide more information to doctors and hospitals about best practices and to vendors whose products allow healthcare providers to meaningfully use EHRs. For example, in communities across the country HHS will target outreach, education and training to Medicare eligible professionals that have registered in the EHR incentive program but have not yet met the requirements for meaningful use.

These efforts will complement existing outreach efforts to doctors and hospitals including the Obama Administration’s work to create a nationwide network of 62 Regional Extension Centers. The extension centers are comprised of local non-profits that provide guidance and resources to help eligible healthcare providers participate in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs and meaningfully use health IT.

Also released today, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey found 52 percent of office-based physicians in the U.S. now intend to take advantage of the incentive payments available for doctors and hospitals through the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. EHR incentive payments for eligible healthcare professionals can total as much as $44,000 under the Medicare EHR Incentive Program and $63,750 under the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program. The CDC data also shows that the percentage of physicians who have adopted basic electronic health records in their practice has doubled from 17 to 34 percent between 2008 and 2011.

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