HIMSS Study, Fewer Hospitals Qualify for Digital Funds

November 7, 2011

Though hospitals are eligible for billions of dollars in federal stimulus money to bring their facilities into the digital age to save money and improve the quality of health care, just one in 10 is ready to meet government standards to qualify for the funds, a new analysis shows.

A study by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), based in Chicago, shows just 10 percent of the nation’s hospitals are “now ready” to address all 14 core measures the government is requiring before they can get extra payments from the federal Medicare health insurance program for the elderly or Medicaid health insurance for the poor. Hospitals have to first meet criteria that include such things as eliminating handwritten orders and giving patients electronic copies of their medical records when discharged, generally on a disk or a secure e-mail. Hospitals also have to reconcile medications every time a patient moves from one type of care setting to another, such as when a patient is transferred from the emergency room to a nursing floor. Two years ago, President Obama signed into law the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, which was part of the federal stimulus legislation. Nearly $18 billion was to be made available to medical-care providers for the adoption of electronic health records and other information technology, like computerized prescribing systems. But before providers could get the extra money, they first had to adopt “meaningful use” criteria or show they were using electronic health records in a meaningful way. “Meaningful use is showing that you did more than install it, but you are actually using it,” said Tom Smith, chief information officer at NorthShore University Health System, which operates four hospitals in Chicago’s north suburbs along Lake Michigan. NorthShore, which spent more than $40 million in recent years to introduce electronic health records for its hospitals and 400-doctor medical group, is one of the few hospital operators that has been receiving extra payments. Just 564 hospitals have received extra Medicaid or Medicare payments this, year, the first year of incentive payments. NorthShore received $11 million in extra Medicare money in its fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Executives say the system is poised to get another $17 million over the next four years as it meets additional government criteria in the next two to three years for providing meaningful use of its health information technology. The study did not track physician readiness, though many hospital operators, like NorthShore, own doctor practices and are including them in their submissions for funds from Medicare. Government figures indicate just a fraction of physicians are ready to receive incentive payments.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services statistics show that 8,523 physicians are receiving the incentive payments from Medicaid or Medicare for electronic health record enhancements. The American Medical Association says there are about 750,000 physicians who provide patient care in the United States. But the Obama administration believes the financial payments are spurring rapid adoption of health information technology among medical care providers. Dr. Farzad Mostashari, the national coordinator for Health Information Technology, said fewer than 10 percent of office-based physicians were using electronic prescribing technology in December 2008 and that more than 40 percent did today. In addition, Dr. Mostashari said one-third of primary care doctors were now working with regional extension centers that connect physicians with one another and hospitals across the country to health information technology. “All of the early indicators are pretty remarkably positive,” Dr. Mostashari said. Though the vast majority of hospitals have yet to begin receiving the extra Medicare money, HIMSS executives said more were coming online. Another 31 percent of the hospitals in HIMSS’s sample of 778 hospitals “should be prepared to meet Stage 1 of meaningful use shortly,” the health information trade group said in its report. “We know hospitals are working hard at it,” said John Hoyt, an executive vice president of HIMSS. “Their strategic plan is to get the money. I think they are highly motivated and making good progress.” And NorthShore executives believe the government and patients are getting a good return on the investment.
Source: By BRUCE JAPSEN, November 1, 2011