Should Retirement-Age Physicians Be Exempt from the Meaningful Use Program?
An April Health Affairs study has confirmed what many healthcare IT consultants already know: older physicians are less likely to use EHR software than their younger counterparts – though not by much. According to the study, which ran through 2011, only 30.8 percent of doctors aged 55 and up were using a basic EHR, compared with 35.5 percent of physicians in the 40 to 55 age group, and 40 percent of physicians under 40. Will hold out providers change their minds in time to attest to meaningful use stage 1?
One obvious reason for lower EHR adoption rates among older physicians is that technologically challenged doctors are less willing to implement new technologies and adapt to new workflows. However, that’s not the only thing stopping 55 and up physicians from transitioning to an EHR. Doctors nearing retirement age are also concerned that they won’t be practicing medicine long enough to see a return on their EHR investment.
Due to the time and costs involved in implementing an EHR, does it make sense to force older providers to make the switch? Healthcare organizations, such as the American medical Association (AMA), don’t think so. They have asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to add an additional exemption category for providers who will be eligible to receive Social Security benefits by 2014.
In an open letter to CMS, signed by more than 100 medical organizations, the AMA stated that “it would be economically burdensome for physicians who intend to retire in the next several years to purchase, install and meaningfully use an EHR.” The letter also stated concern over patient care, as physicians might choose to opt out of Medicare and Medicaid services in order to avoid penalties.
The current drawback for physicians who choose not to participate in meaningful use stage 1 is that they do not qualify for incentive payments. Starting in 2015, however, eligible providers who fail to attest to meaningful use will face a 1 percent reduction in Medicare payments and will accumulate an extra 1 percent reduction each year, until reaching the maximum penalty of 5 percent.
CMS will be releasing final exemption categories in the next few months. Until then, 55 and up physicians and their healthcare IT consultants can continue debating the pros and cons of jumping into the world of EHR.
Amanda guerrero is a content writer specializing in EHR, healthcare technology and meaningful use, with more than seven years of experience working in the medical industry. In addition to maintaining her own health IT-related blog, she contributes to websites such as HealthTechnologyReview and HITECHAnswers.net.