Should hospitals risk going broke for Meaningful Use?

Should officials at cash-strapped hospitals go all-in on electronic health record systems in hopes of receiving a big return via incentive dollars, even if it means spending beyond their means? While Hospitals & Health Networks' Haydn Bush outlines one hospital's attempt at doing so, healthsystemCIO.com's Anthony Guerra believes there's simply too much risk.

Bush, writing about Birmingham, Ala.-based safety-net Cooper Green Mercy Hospital, examines how the facility--which announced $6.7 million cuts and 89 layoffs last month--is pushing through with multiple costly IT projects, including an EHR system implementation that will cost between $2.3 million and $2.7 million. The hospital is funded publicly by Jefferson County, which, itself declared bankruptcy last November, Bush notes.

Cooper Green Director of Information Services Srkanth Karra "and other hospital officials worked closely with county officials to explain the expected return on investment from Meaningful Use funding," Bush writes. "The payoff? If the hospital is able to successfully attest for Meaningful Use, the first payment will be for $2 million; future payments will be based on discharges."

Bush adds that such funds could make "all the difference in the world." Guerra, though, sees such thinking as irresponsible, likening it to spending unavailable funds on housing projects.

"While there is no question that, in general, healthcare IT investments are the good and right thing to do, that doesn't mean they are always fiscally feasible," he writes. "Just because we may want, or feel entitled, to a certain tile in the bathroom doesn't mean we can continue paying our mortgage if we get it."

Guerra points to a recent HIStalk post about Louisville, Ky.-based Norton Healthcare, which is expecting $37 million in operating losses in FY2012, partially due to its EHR system implementation.

"Remember, going millions beyond what your HIT budget should be won't improve patient care if it ultimately forces your doors to close," he writes.

To learn more:
- read the H&HN commentary
- here's the healthsystemCIO.com commentary

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