Health IT costs top $32K per doctor per year

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High tech means high costs for physician practices.

Keeping up in the digital age is proving to be a continuing expense for physician practices, with the cost of health information technology reaching more than $32,500 per doctor annually, according to a new analysis from the Medical Group Management Association.

That figure reflects a continued rise in costs, as physician-owned multi-specialty practices spent more than $32,500 in 2015 for each full-time doctor on health IT equipment, staff, maintenance and other related costs, the MGMA said in an announcement.

As they move to digitlize their practices and patient medical records, healthcare organizations across the country continue to face significant increases in IT costs--up by more than 40 percent per physician since 2009 when the HITECH Act was signed into law, the MGMA said.  

The data was based on a 2016 MGMA survey of more than 3,100 physician practices across the country with findings being reported in the “2016 MGMA Cost and Revenue Report.”

“While technology plays a crucial role in helping healthcare organizations evolve to provide higher-quality, value-based care, this transition is becoming increasingly expensive,” Halee Fischer-Wright, M.D., the MGMA’s president and CEO, said in the announcement.

Unless there are significant changes in the final rule to implement the Medicare Access & CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), IT costs will continue to rise without a corresponding improvement in patient care, Fischer-Wright said. “We remain concerned that far too much of a practice’s IT investment is tied directly to complying with the ever-increasing number of federal requirements, rather than to providing better patient care,” she said.

While practices saw financial incentives to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) from the HITECH Act, the incentives have tapered down since 2011, leaving practices to shoulder a larger percentage of the cost to upgrade and maintain that technology, the MGMA said.

Practices have seen growing IT staff expenses, which have escalated by nearly 47 percent per full-time physician since 2009, the group said. Increased staff costs suggest that the investments in technology have yet to result in significant administrative efficiencies for practices. Another increase in technology costs resulted from practices investment in online patient portals.  

The growth of the electronic environment in healthcare is, however, taking a toll on physicians. A national study showed the use of EHRs leads to lower physician satisfaction and higher rates of professional burnout.

Along with escalating IT costs, practices face further financial pressure as they move toward providing value-based care, the MGMA said. Total operating costs increased for physician-owned multispecialty practices by nearly 15 percent in 2015, according to MGMA data, outpacing the more than 10 percent increase in total revenue practices saw last year.

- read the announcement 
- find the MGMA report (purchase required)