New EMR incentives--or threats?

Wow, someone outside of politics or the health insurance industry is acknowledging the benefit of EMRs. A Minneapolis-based medical malpractice insurer has agreed to give physicians who use EMRs a premium credit of 2 percent to 5 percent if the practice meets some key criteria. This suggests that the insurer sees EMRs as having a practical impact on its costs, not just producing some ill-defined efficiency benefit, which is quite interesting.

To qualify for the credit, which applies to either solo practitioners or group practices, the practice must use a CCHIT-certified EMR, must have implemented vendor updates (or plan to do so) and must be using the EMR for at least a year. Also, three-quarters of physicians in the practice must be using the EMR. What's more, the practice must be using at least two of the six EMR functions listed on the company's policy application.

Honestly, I don't think a huge number of practices will benefit from this credit. After all, few will meet the requirements. Still, it's interesting to see the P&C insurance sector take this tack. And it makes me wonder who else will move in this direction, and how.

Will health insurers offer discounts to patients who visit EMR-equipped doctors? Will employers go beyond their current focus on PHRs to demand digital records from physicians--and penalize those who don't offer them? Will pay for performance program managers start demanding IT investment, rather than simply acknowledging that it probably helps outcomes?

Another big question: will governments (state, federal and even local) finally put their money where their mouth is and offer tax credits (or similar incentives) for EMR adoption? They're certainly in a better position to fund this massive investment then even the deep-pocketed health insurance business.

Perhaps most importantly, when will all of this happen, if it does?

All I know is that I'm going to be keeping a close eye on where incentives (and disincentives) for EMR adoption are headed.  With EMR use and adoption becoming a public focus and political football, heaven only knows who'll get involved next. - Anne

P.S.  Last week, I took a contrarian position on the issue of RHIOs, outlining some reasons why they may be a bad idea. For an interesting and highly articulate response, I encourage you to check out the blog entry by Martin Jensen of the Healthcare IT Transition Group, in which he takes apart my argument graciously and thoughtfully. Worth a read!