Is Your Practice Ready To Go Paperless?

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There's no doubt that the meaningful use incentive money, made available by the ARRA HITECH Act (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act) is drawing a boatload of attention. Under this legislation, the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have set requirements for the meaningful use of healthcare information technology (HIT). If these requirements are met by eligible providers, they qualify for HHS meaningful use incentive money up to $63,750 over the next six years.

For many practices the question is not whether to go paperless to qualify for ARRA HITECH meaningful use incentives but rather, when. However, there are many factors to consider when determining whether a practice will be successful at taking the leap to 100% electronic.

A Few Questions to Consider

Is the physician practice primarily interested in receiving incentive money available through the ARRA HITECH Act?

Is the practice primarily interested in going 100% electronic, and the incentives are just a nice bonus?

Does the practice have the upfront capital to invest in a meaningful use EHR? Or does the practice require the CMS meaningful use incentive money to fund the investment?

Are the practice staff ready and eager to make the switch? Are they tech savvy?

Would the practice staff benefit from taking a slower, more measured approach to adding technology piece-by-piece into the practice?

Is the office practice prepared to scan in all patient folders to include in an EHR and devote staff time for EHR training?

The key to the ARRA HITECH Act is to increase patient safety and improve the quality of care patients receive. However, the reality is that many practices are hesitant to embark on adopting HIT. There are a variety of reasons: the belief that implementing an EHR/EMR will not provide adequate return on investment; worries that practice productivity will drop dramatically during implementation of an EHR; and the ever-looming issue of financing a new system.

Practice Options

If the practice's long-term strategy is to go 100% paperless, this is the time to begin taking steps towards meeting CMS meaningful use requirements. Practices that adopt an EHR or EMR and demonstrate the meaningful use of the technology can be eligible for meaningful use of EHR incentive money as early as May 2011 if they are up and running with their EHR by January 2011. Eligible providers who take this route may qualify for up to $63,750 in meaningful use funds over the next six years.

Practices that wish to advantage of the ARRA meaningful use incentive money but are not prepared financially to make the dollar and time commitment required by EHR adoption can opt to install a modular EMR (electronic medical records) system which, if certified, can allow them to meet meaningful use regulations and also benefit from the incentive money. This modular approach qualifies as adoption of meaningful use EMR. As with practices that implement a complete EHR, if these practices implement their modular EMR by January 2011, they could receive CMS meaningful use incentive dollars as early as May 2011.

Providers should review and weigh all options to determine the course of action that will most greatly benefit their practice and patients. Practices that don't pass the 100% electronic litmus test still have modular options that will keep them in the game and on their way to qualifying for meaningful use incentive funds

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