ONC: Incentive payments top reason docs adopt EHRs

In what is probably no surprise to anyone, Meaningful Use incentive payments have been the top driver of physicians' transitions to electronic health records over the past five years, according to a new data brief from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

The data brief, released Dec. 5, and based on data from the 2013 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, found that 59 percent of physicians had adopted a "MU" EHR; another 22 percent had planned to adopt an EHR or adopted an "other" EHR. Sixty-two percent of physicians who had adopted an EHR said that the incentives were a "major" influence in their decision to do so.

Of those physicians who had no plans to adopt an EHR, two-thirds (67 percent) cited lack of money, time and staff as their reason to stick with paper records. Forty-three percent cited privacy and security concerns.

The data brief also found that EHR adoption rates were significantly lower among specialists.  

"[A]lthough there were high adoption rates among primary care physicians, similar rates were not observed across other specialty groups," the data brief concludes. "Almost 10 percent of surgical specialists reported they would never adopt an EHR. To ensure improved patient care, reduced healthcare costs, and improved continuity of care across the healthcare continuum, physicians across the spectrum must adopt EHRs and use them to safely and securely share patient health information electronically."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' announcement touting the data brief pointed to the importance of incentives, such as those in the Meaningful Use program and the new reimbursement for chronic care management for physicians using certified EHR technology, in spurring EHR adoption.

However, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the data brief is the spin that HHS has placed on interoperability. The announcement states that the financial incentives and ability to share information were top reasons that physicians adopted EHRs.

However, the data brief itself tells a slightly different story. Only a little more than one-third of adopters (36 percent) cited data exchange capability as a major influence in their decision to adopt an EHR. More physicians cited board certification requirements (39 percent) and the fact that trusted colleagues were using EHRs (37 percent) as major influences in their decision to adopt. All three of these reasons ranked considerably lower than the 62 percent of physicians spurred by the incentive money.

To learn more:
- read the data brief (.pdf)
- here's the announcement

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