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HHS Making It Easier for Providers to Join Health IT Program

By Dena Bunis, CQ HealthBeat Managing Editor

November 30, 2011 -- Federal officials are determined to get health care providers to buy in to new health information technology (IT) as a way to improve quality and save money. In an effort to get broader participation in that program, Health and Human Service Secretary (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius announced that she is pushing back the deadline for physicians and hospitals to meet new standards until 2014.

"When doctors and hospitals use health IT, patients get better care and we save money," Sebelius said in Cleveland, where she was speaking at Cuyahoga Community College. "We’re making great progress, but we can’t wait to do more. Too many doctors and hospitals are still using the same record-keeping technology as Hippocrates. Today, we are making it easier for health care providers to use new technology to improve the health care system for all of us and create more jobs."

Sebelius also released a report that showed the adoption of health IT has doubled in two years.

In an effort to get Medicare and Medicaid providers who have started health IT systems but were waiting until 2012 to officially apply for an incentive payment because they didn’t want to have to meet certain advanced, Stage 2, meaningful use standards, HHS officials are now telling them if they apply this year they won’t have to meet the Stage 2 standards until 2014. And, they’ll still could get incentive payments starting this year.

This change will affect the Medicare and Medicaid incentive programs,

Electronic Health Record (EHR) incentive payments for eligible health care professionals can total as much as $44,000 over five years under the Medicare EHR Incentive Program and $63,750 over five years under the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program.

HHS officials also intend to step up their outreach to medical professionals and to vendors who are selling their health IT products to doctors and hospitals. There will be more education and training for those who have signed up but not yet met the meaningful use standards that HHS official say are the necessary for all impending payment changes involving patient-centered medical homes, accountable care organizations, bundled payments, and value-based purchasing.

"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," an HHS release said.

The willingness to use of health IT is beginning to catch on. A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey recently released found that 52 percent of office-based physicians in the United States intend to enroll in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs. The CDC data also show 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 (with the percent of primary care doctors using this technology nearly doubling from 20 to 39 percent).

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