January 31, 2012 --- A sizable, growing stream of federal incentive payments have made their way into Oregon to help doctors and hospitals defray costs of installing and using electronic health records to track, manage and follow up with their patients. These electronic health record systems must meet certain federal standards to qualify as technologies that have 'Meaningful Use.'
To date, at least 125 Oregon providers have received the payments, which began in 2011 and will continue for at least five years, depending on each provider's continuing eligibility.
Portland internal medicine physician group, Cascade Physicians, P.C., has been among the first early adopter doctors to receive these payments, having received in October $18,000 per eligible doctor in their practice. "Electronic records are very expensive and require difficult transitions for staff and physicians," said Cascade Physicians' President Frank Kurz, M.D. "These 'meaningful use' payments are helping to facilitate our adoption of a great new tool that will help with patient care and reporting."
The term 'Meaningful Use' is defined by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) as "the use of certified electronic health records in a meaningful manner such as e-prescribing, the submission of clinical quality measures, and the exchange of health information to improve the quality of health care."
"Oregon is seen as a national leader in electronic health record adoption," said Donna McClellan, R.N., executive director of the Portland Interhospital Physicians Association. The Portland IPA works with its more than 2,500 local physician members to help them manage their practice technology, contracting and quality management functions. The Portland IPA has also recently announced that it is piloting the new Provider Connect system, a Web-based tool that augments EHR systems, designed to assist with generating and tracking referrals, tracking patient utilization and facilitating an expedited process for obtaining prior authorizations and ordering diagnostic tests for physicians and health organizations.
Oregon's leading status is recognized due to the high number of providers engaging in selecting, implementing and effectively using EHR technology. A recent survey by the Oregon Community Health Information Network showed more than 2,700 individual Oregon providers are participating in the federal grant program. Hospitals are also receiving their payments, although via a separate methodology.
Like the Cascade Physicians group, more than 2,000 Oregon physicians and hospitals have attested, or registered, to begin the process that confirms their specific EHR system is certified for Meaningful Use. When the attestation is accepted by CMS, the providers and hospitals begin the process to meet Meaningful Use requirements. Once complete, the provider is eligible to receive the federal EHR incentives. A provider must attest to qualification for these payments by either Medicaid or Medicare, but not both.
"There has been a tremendous amount of work done within our practice to install and implement our EHR system," said Lisa Schwab, administrator at Cascade Physicians, P.C. "We conducted years of site visits and product evaluation. We mindfully installed the system in phases and then spent two weeks mitigating patient care time so we could each be trained to use the new system. This has been a substantial investment for our practice's four sites. Then, we applied for these incentive funds, which help defray these costs but is an investment that physicians must first make and then verify."
By participating each year and by meeting the 'Meaningful Use' criteria, eligible providers can receive up to $44,000 or $63,750 over a six-year period depending on their CMS activity. To receive a payment that can be associated with 2011 performance , health care providers must apply no later than Feb. 29, 2012.
According to the CMS, the federal Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive programs provide incentive payments to eligible professionals, eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals (CAHs) as they adopt, implement, upgrade or demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHR technology.
CMS also stated that in late September, 2011, hospitals and providers that treat Medicaid patients began applying for federal grants that will help them make the switch from paper records to electronic health records. In Oregon, the grants are administered through the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program, which is open to all hospitals and providers who treat a specified number of Medicaid patients.
In the first weeks of the program in October, 2011, over 100 applications were submitted, and 22 providers from five clinics received payments. Cascade Physicians, P.C., is among the early recipients of the incentive payments, according to practice administrator Lisa Schwab.