For some, 'meaningful use' can't start soon enough

While so many hospitals and physicians are fretting about the short timetable to achieve "meaningful use" of EMRs by 2012--in time to receive the maximum incentive payments--there's another camp for which the program can't start soon enough.

Even as they push to install their own EMRs, many smaller hospitals are trying to tread water financially until the incentive payments kick in. (CMS will send out the first bonuses in mid-May.)

As Business First of Columbus (Ohio) reports, a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey indicated that about half of U.S. hospitals will be able to apply for extra Medicare and Medicaid funding next year because of their EMRs. But what of the other half? Some, of course, are so far behind that getting to meaningful use by 2015--when CMS starts penalizing non-EMR users--seems unrealistic for them. Others, though, are counting on the extra payments to finance their systems and keep cash flow in the black.

Genesis HealthCare System in Zanesville, Ohio, obtained a $25 million, tax-exempt, flexible lease from Columbus-based Huntington Bank to accelerate EMR adoption at its two hospitals and for the 150 employed and affiliated physicians that have agreed to use the system. The lease stipulates that Genesis' payments will be lower until CMS payments start coming in and the health system starts seeing operational savings from the $40 million EMR project.

"It's a degree of confidence we have in their cash flow," Todd Williams, Huntington Bank executive VP in charge of commercial specialty banking, tells Business First.

It's also a degree of confidence the bank sees in the health system's ability to acheive meaningful use, get paid by CMS and Ohio Medicaid and realize savings from having an EMR. Every consultant I've talked to in recent months has been advising providers not to count on the stimulus money to cover the full cost of an EMR. But if the extra cash helps defer expenses and accelerates adoption of EMRs that truly do improve quality and efficiency, then the billions of taxpayer dollars will ultimately be worth it.