When and how to deploy e-health records tech

Healthcare facilities that haven't begun an EHR rollout yet might want to wait

Over the next two years, 58% of small physician practices plan to roll out electronic health records. And by 2014, the federal government wants more than half of all healthcare facilities to use EHRs.

To date, however, less than 20% of hospitals and 25% of physician practices have deployed EHR systems, and most of them would not meet the federal government's criteria for "meaningful use" of those systems, according to Karen Bell, chairwoman of the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT), nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate the adoption of healthcare IT systems.

Perhaps the biggest obstacles for physicians and hospitals are the magnitude of many healthcare IT projects and the need to meet those "meaningful use" requirements from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To help providers overcome those obstacles, public and private financing is available for EHR rollouts. Moreover, there are cost-effective ways of deploying the technology, and it may not even be necessary to rebuild an existing IT infrastructure to accommodate an EHR system. One option is to share the data center of another local healthcare facility that has a large IT support staff.

Nonetheless, even with financing and alternative deployment strategies at their disposal, hospitals and other providers that haven't started using EHR technology might want to wait.

"I know there are incentives out there... but the $44,000 or $65,000 you can get comes over a five-year period," Bell said. "If you haven't gone through the readiness process, gotten your staff ready and gotten everyone on board with what this will entail and put a project plan in place, then you'd probably do better to wait -- maybe even until 2013, when a whole new set of criteria comes out."

By waiting, clinics or physician practices would not only be able to meet more of the criteria for meaningful use of EHR systems, but they would also be able to deploy systems that meet their own needs for patient care and administrative automation.

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