Through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, certain healthcare providers – including most physicians and hospitals – may be eligible for incentive payments if they follow guidelines regarding implementation and active use of electronic health record (EHR) systems.  In order to receive these incentive payments, provider organizations must demonstrate “meaningful use” of federally certified EHR systems.

Meeting meaningful use is separated into three stages, with progressively more requirements for participation at each level.  In order to achieve level one of meaningful use, organizations must meet 15 core objectives and 5 objectives out of a 10 item menu.  These objectives are grouped into 5 general categories:

  1. Improve quality, safety, efficiency
  2. Engage patients and families
  3. Improve care coordination
  4. Improve public and population health
  5. Ensure privacy and security for personal health information of patients

A recent Data Brief by the CDC National Center for Health Statistics outlines EHR usage and adoption among US office based physician practices over the past decade.  Overall, there has been a significant jump in EHR usage.

  • In 2001, 18.2% of office based physicians utilized EHRs.
  • In 2006, 29.2% of office based physicians utilized EHRs.
  • In 2012, 71.8% of office based physicians utilized EHRs.

Despite this substantial national increase, utilization greatly varies by state.  This is likely due to several factors including state policy and physician culture and attitude towards EHRs.  Massachusetts had the highest level of physician EHR use at 89%.  The lowest level of physician EHR utilization was in New Jersey at 54%.

This large increase in EHR use is undoubtedly influenced by the desire to participate in Medicare or Medicaid incentive payment programs.  In 2011, 52% of physicians indicated that they wanted to participate in these programs.  By 2012, 66% of physicians expressed interest in participating.

  • 41% of physicians have already applied to the incentive payment programs.
  • 25% intend to apply to the incentive payment programs in the future.
  • 29% of those intending to participate currently have EHRs that could meet Stage 1 Core Objectives.  Again, these results varied by state, ranging from 17% in North Dakota to 39% in Wisconsin.

For more information on EHRs, meaningful use, and payment incentives, visit www.healthit.gov.