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Health IT about to switch to ‘high gear’

March 4, 2011

Though many healthcare providers have been slow to adopt health information technology thus far, the implementation rate of electronic health records looks ready to soar, according to a recent blog post from David Blumenthal, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

Blumenthal acknowledged that the EHR implementation rate by healthcare providers had been low until recently, but said it had significantly improved in recent years, with 41 percent of office physicians planning to achieve meaningful use of their EHRs.

In January, more than 21,000 providers started the registration process for the EHR incentive programs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced. More than 45,000 providers also requested registration help or information from Regional Extension Centers, which offer support as providers prove meaningful use of their health IT systems.

In a keynote speech at the HIMSS conference, the Department of Health and Human Services’ secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, called health IT an “investment in a stronger economy” that had “huge job-creating potential,” Modern Healthcare reports.

Sebelius called on HIMSS members to “work harder” to close the gap between large urban and small rural healthcare facilities in terms of digital integration.

Her call to action echoed comments from another government official, Dr. Farzad Mostashari, the deputy national programs and policy coordinator at the HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, who said providers who have already adopted EHR systems are responsible for encouraging colleagues to do the same.

Federal Medicare and Medicaid incentive programs will pay out grants to providers who can prove meaningful use of their EHR systems, and promise maximum payouts to those who act now, in the first stage of the three-stage program.

While a growing number of providers have installed the technology in their offices, a greater challenge is getting healthcare workers and patients to integrate the systems into their daily operations and interactions.

A recent Sage healthcare white paper by Elizabeth Woodcock outlined steps that medical providers can take to ease their EHR implementation and prove meaningful use.

A group can establish a course of action by prioritizing the necessary steps and determining which EHR functions it already uses and those it has not adopted yet. Once the plan is laid out, a practice can register its intent to participate in the program with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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