Extending MU incentives may boost EHR adoption

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More primary care physicians participate in meaningful use than their specialist counterparts, likely because PCPs face higher financial risk if they don't participate, suggests new research.

A study from the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care found physician participation in the Medicare EHR incentive program was higher among general internal and family medicine practitioners when analyzing 2012 Medicare claims data.

Participation for family medicine physicians was approximately 29 percent, and participation for general internal medicine physicians was approximately 27 percent. Specialist participation was lower. Gastroenterologists came in at approximately 26 percent, pulmonology at 22 percent, cardiology at 20 percent and orthopedics at 19 percent.

The study authors suggests physicians in subspecialties that tend to have higher pay have a lower risk when implementing an EHR because it requires a lower percentage of subspecialists' practice income to cover upfront costs of implementation, which the authors estimate is between $15,000 and $70,000 per physician.

Primary care physicians, though, may have a higher dependence on financial incentives. Looking solely at the economics of the situation, PCPs would seem to be less likely to adopt EHRs, as they typically do not have the financial safety net their subspecialist peers do.

However, they remain higher participants, likely due to funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Since PCPs may be more sensitive to Medicare incentives, the authors suggest sustaining incentive payments, instead of allowing them to expire as the current meaningful use program does, may support universal adoption of EHRs.

"These results build on previous findings suggesting that PCPs may be more responsive to incentive assistance and therefore the most likely affected by expiring incentive payments," the study authors conclude. "Extending incentives to achieve widespread EHR use among all practices, and focusing these on smaller practices and those with lower practice income, such as PCPs, may still be needed to help these providers afford prohibitive upfront cost of EHR implementation."

More articles on meaningful use:

CMS' final IPPS rule for 2016: 10 things to know
AHA message to Congress on EHR policy changes: 10 key takeaways
Senate committee pushes to delay MU3

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