Most hospitals that don't qualify for the electronic health record Meaningful Use incentive program haven't bothered to implement EHRs, suggesting that the incentive payments, not factors such as improved patient care, are the real drivers behind EHR adoption.
In a new study of long term acute, rehabilitation and psychiatric hospitals published in the March issue of Health Affairs, researchers found that these "ineligible" hospitals have "dismally low" rates of EHR adoption; while 12 percent of short term acute care hospitals had at least a basic EHR system, only 6 percent of long term acute care, 4 percent of rehabilitation and 2 percent of psychiatric hospitals did so.
The researchers expressed concern that patients in these hospitals were less likely to benefit from the improved care associated with access to EHRs, and that the spillover effect of large segments of providers remaining paper-based would undermine the government's hope for efficiency and quality gains expected with EHRs and electronic care coordination. They also speculated that vendors' focus on meaningful use for hospitals that qualify for the incentives and the ineligible hospitals' uncertainty about which EHR would best suit them also impede adoption by these hospitals.
"By leaving out ineligible providers, the nation risks building a new digital divide in which key providers, which already have low levels of electronic clinical data, may fall further behind," the researchers warned.
The results aren't necessarily surprising. "Meaningful Use and funding is stimulating the activity [to adopt EHRs], Kate Berry, CEO of the National e-Health Cooperative told FierceEMR in an interview.
Other providers have felt the pinch of being ineligible for the payments; even providers who do qualify but feel somewhat disenfranchised have been slower to adopt EHR systems.