EHR: Now Comes the Hard Part

HHS is taking on a new EHR challenge. In recognition that the time for EHR has come (see our previous posts Are Patients Benefiting from EHR? and EHR Market Maturing), the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) faces the huge task of convincing the healthcare industry to adopt EHRs.

The push to adopt not only makes sense in terms of patient care benefits and a growing EHR software product marketplace, but the federal government and large private healthcare organizations are also anxious to create substantial financial savings by adopting EHRs. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects cost savings for large providers.

But CBO also found that smaller providers such as physician offices may incur more costs than they do with paper records. When computer hardware, software licenses and IT support are considered, the costs of maintaining EHRs add up. When the cost and effort to migrate to an EHR model are considered, including transcription of all paper records, the barrier to adoption becomes more tangible.

In response to the adoption challenge, HHS has embarked on a campaign for hearts and minds.

With the launch of, ONC is appealing to the hearts of providers and patients alike. The website promotes the benefits of EHR and health IT in general. Providers are encouraged to take a pledge to “empower individuals to be partners in their health through health IT.” Patients are encouraged to take part in their healthcare and put the “I” in health IT.

To appeal to provider minds, HHS is providing federal incentive payments specifically to help providers through the adoption process. And describes a five phased methodology to transition from paper to EHR.

The HHS approach is showing signs of success. According to an HHS press release, 65% of the hospitals that responded to an American Hospital Association (AHA) survey intend to make use of federal incentives to transition to EHR. And 41% of respondents to an HHS survey of office-based physicians plan to use the incentives. HHS survey results also indicate that 29.6% of responding primary care physicians have already adopted EHR, up from 19.8% in 2008. The substantial increases in adoption rates, even among physicians, indicate that more and more healthcare industry participants agree that the time for EHR has arrived. For more information on federal EHR incentive programs, please visit the Official Web Site for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Programs.

Sources: CBO,