Rural Hospitals Pushed to Implement EHR

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Thursday, 26 January 2012 03:07

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is pushing the healthcare industry to go digital by implementing the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act). This act is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which contains incentives related to health care information technology in general and contains specific incentives designed to accelerate the adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems among providers. There has been over $20 million dollars set aside to help rural hospitals adopt their EHR programs.

Every dollar spent on a large scale project like EHR means fewer or no dollars to spend on other needed investments in rural hospitals. Unfortunately, rural hospitals can no longer afford to ignore the move to the digital age. Not only do they need to facilitate better two-way communications for patient retention, but also because the government is pushing them to do so by enforcing sanctions against them if they do not. For providers that have not adopted certified EHR or cannot demonstrate “meaningful use” by 2015; their Medicare reimbursements will start to be reduced by 1% and will continue to be reduced by an additional 1% each year they are not in compliance.

Implementing EHR systems will be costly for rural hospitals. That is where the HITECH Act can help. The government has setup a series of stages that gives complying providers incentive payments for implementation and demonstration of “meaningful use”. Stage 1 started in 2011 and ends 2012, it requires providers to meet 14 to 15 core requirements and choose five more from a menu of 10 options. Some of these requirements include electronic filing systems for all patients’ health records, medical billing systems and transcription services.

Rural hospitals serve approximately 25 percent of the population and are often one of the top employers in their communities. Understanding the challenges that they face in implementing these new EHR systems and figuring out applicable solutions is vital for them to survive. Solutions can be found and with a little ingenuity these hospitals will be able to continue the mission of severing their communities.

~Kristen Price