Physicians in sight of retirement face a tough choice about EMR adoption

Medicare penalties for not adopting EMRs kick in starting in 2015, and are scheduled to reach 5 percent by 2019 for the true holdouts. But what of the many physicians within five to eight years of retirement? Is it worth the investment in an EMR and the resulting need to teach an old dog new tricks if the user is going to leave practice before the end of the decade?

American Medical News ponders this tricky question in a feature story this week.

According to California-based healthcare consultant Joseph Mack, a physician nearing retirement needs to consider the "true value" of the EMR, including the cost of the investment, the potential return on investment and the time needed to achieve that return. The cost is more than just the up-front price tag for the system, though. It includes the inevitable temporary slowdown in productivity for several weeks or months during and after implementation while practice staff adjust to new workflow processes.

"There's a lot of manpower costs that are not articulated in vendor information, because [vendors] don't have to deal with it," Mack tells AMNews.

Another potential factor is the resale value of the practice. Todd Sherman, lead partner of physician retirement planning firm the Sherman Sobin Group, Mount Laurel, N.J., notes that an EMR isn't always a major selling point for a doctor looking to leave practice in a few years. To Sherman, the decision to invest in an EMR is most difficult for those in solo or two-physician practices who expect to retire within a decade.

Sherman usually advises physicians within 10 years of retirement to concentrate on building up their savings accounts. A major capital investment like an EMR would take away from that strategy, though, and a bad investment could force doctors to keep working beyond their planned retirement dates.

Mack says physicians within three years of retirement would have a hard time making a case for an EMR, while Sherman says it's generally a good investment for a physician looking to retire eight to 10 years down the road.

"I am a big proponent of an EMR, but doctors have to examine the cost benefit of it," Mack says. "Unless the EMR helps increase their profitability...then it can't really be said the EMR will increase the value of the practice when you sell it in one, two or three years."

To learn more:
- check out this AMNews story

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