Doctors, Is Meaningful Use That Important?

Posted on May 20, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

According to an estimate I heard recently, if a doctor’s productivity drops as little as 3 percent to 5 percent the first year after installing an EMR, they’ve already lost more than the $40,000 they can make from Meaningful Use incentives.  And while there will be exceptions, I can’t help but think that most practices will fall into that category.

After all, EMRs aren’t just new software. They represent a new way of thinking about workflow and the practice of medicine generally.  While that may ultimately be a good thing, over the short term it’s likely that even tech-friendly doctors will need some time to adjust.

So, why are medical practices worked up over MU compliance? Certainly, it doesn’t hurt to stay on CMS’s good side, and the $40K sounds sweet at the outset. Also, I’m sure some practices genuinely believe that EMRs can improve the quality of care they provide — and see the incentives as an added benefit.

That being said, I’d argue that the hunger for Meaningful Use incentives puts far too much pressure on doctors, pushing them to make EMR buying decisions before they’re prepared.  Choosing a piece of enterprise software is tough enough even in hospitals with veteran IT teams in place; for smaller practices, which may not have even a single tech on staff, it’s even riskier.

If I ruled the world (OK, even HHS), I’d spend more on bringing vendor selection, training and change management support to doctors, and focus less on payoffs. But as things stand, CMS seems largely focused on handing out the cash. All I can do is encourage doctors not to be blinded by short-term gain, and phase in EMRs at their own pace.  For most practices, I’d argue, that will work much better over the long run.