On January 3, 2011, registration for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs opened for America’s health care providers. Eligible professionals and hospitals that register may qualify for significant incentive payments under Medicare and Medicaid when they switch from paper-based medical records to certified electronic health record (EHR) technology. Congress established the Medicare and Medicaid Incentive Programs to encourage widespread adoption of EHRs so that patients, providers, and the nation can realize the improvements that EHRs can support in quality and efficiency of care.

According to government-supported surveys, 81 percent of hospitals and 41 percent of office-based physicians intend to apply for the incentives, with the majority of them planning to participate in Stage 1 of the program (2011-2012).

That represents a significant change from the slow EHR adoption rates prior to establishment of the EHR Incentive Programs. But to realize the true potential of health information technology (health IT), the rates of participation in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs need to be even higher. To achieve the highest possible participation, we are reaching out to every hospital and every clinician in the country, from the solo practices and community hospitals in small towns and rural clinics to the large multi-specialty clinics and tertiary care centers in big cities—and every combination in between.

In order to achieve this goal, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), along with other divisions of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are working closely together on a coordinated outreach and education campaign. Our approach is two-pronged and involves distributing critical information and materials nationally, while focusing on local communities to engage audiences where they live and work.

For example:

  • We’ve distributed comprehensive, one-stop-shop materials to stakeholders and to the media about the incentive programs and the resources offered by ONC and CMS to help eligible professionals and eligible hospitals on their journeys to meaningful use.
  • We’ve created websites where providers can find assistance and developed web-based materials, including checklists simplifying registration for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, to help make registration easy to achieve.
  • We help facilitate technical assistance to providers and hospitals, including small group practices and critical access/rural hospitals facing unique challenges in making meaningful use of EHRs, through 62 Regional Extension Centers strategically located in communities nationwide.
  • We placed notices in the January/February and March/April issues of national medical journals that highlight ONC and CMS resources.
  • ONC and CMS leaders have participated in a variety of conferences and events around the country in order to connect with those working to support health IT adoption. For example, ONC and CMS recently exhibited at HIMSS 2011 where they were able to engage with almost 30,000 health IT professionals, health care executives, and providers.
  • We’ve developed a strong online presence through social media that includes the Health IT Buzz Blog, e-mail updates, the ONC and CMS twitter accounts, and YouTube channel. CMS has also created a registration video and established a CMS EHR Incentive Programs Listserv for timely, authoritative information about the programs, including registration and attestation updates, and details about the payment process.
  • CMS continues to work with state Medicaid agencies as they finalize their provider outreach and education plans for their Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.  Most states have also created websites addressing state-specific program criteria to assist eligible providers with registration and attestation for Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.
  • We’re also taking steps to protect the privacy and security of patient electronic health information by requiring meaningful users of EHRs to put in place specific technical capabilities protecting patient information, and requiring certified EHRs to support critical security control capabilities including encryption.

We’re collaborating with national and state medical societies, hospital organizations, and health information exchanges to highlight the potential of health IT and asking them to reach out to their constituencies about how to become meaningful users of EHRs. Many organizations such as the American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Hospital Association, American Medical AssociationMedical Group Management Association, and the National Rural Health Association have included helpful information on health IT and EHRs on their websites. The American Osteopathic Association and the Federation of American Hospitals have also posted a CMS EHR Incentive Programs web button on their websites.  CMS continues to have bi-weekly calls with the states to assist them with development and implementation of their Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, including outreach to eligible providers.

Our long-term outreach and education strategy calls for locally directed information activities to encourage providers to take advantage of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. We’re helping providers and stakeholders in every region of the country reach out to their colleagues about this significant opportunity. We will also leverage our understanding of provider questions and concerns at each stage of the adoption process to develop tailored messages and materials.

Incentive payments help providers with the financial aspect of the transition to EHRs, but money is not the most important reason to become a meaningful user. As David Blumenthal, MD, MPP, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, points out in his new video, we all stand to benefit from an early transition to EHRs:

  • Patients can benefit from more complete and faster diagnosis and treatment.
  • Clinicians can benefit from the increased efficiency and communication.
  • Hospitals can benefit from better coordination and safety.
  • The nation can benefit from the cost savings associated with a more efficient health care system and, most importantly, a healthier population.

We welcome your ideas and comments on how to reach more providers and hospitals and with the information they need to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs and help our nation achieve the potential benefits of health IT.