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Are Electronic Medical Records A $27 Billion Waste Of Money?

President Obama’s has created an incentive program to encourage physicians to adopt functional Electronic Medical Records.  The program’s $27 billion dollars (funded by President Obama’s Economic Stimulus package) will turn out to be a colossal failure and a waste of money.

Twenty seven billion dollars would provide $44,000 for 640,000 physicians. After the bureaucratic infrastructure is built the federal government will be lucky if one third of the money remains for bonuses to physicians.

Only 21,000 of 650,000 (3%) of physicians have applied to date.

Complex bureaucracies and complicated regulations never save money. These bureaucracies create bigger government, inconsistent policies, more complicated regulations and inefficiencies.

The best and cheapest way to create a universally accepted and functional EMR is for the federal government to put the software in the cloud and charge physicians by the click for the use of the Ideal Medical Record.

Upgrades in software to the Ideal Medical Record will be swift , inexpensive and instantly adopted.

The federal government has done it before with an electronic billing system in the 1980’s. The incentive to physicians was to be paid in one week as opposed to the one to two months wait for payment using a paper claim.

Last week the proposed rules for defining “meaningful use” of EMRs starting in 2013 were published.

As soon as Stage 2 of President Obama’s EMR bonus program were published organized medicine complained that the rules were unrealistic and onerous.

Organized medicine is correct.  This usually happens when the bureaucracy piles one set of rules on top of another. The Stage 2 rules will discourage physicians from participating even at the threat of an undisclosed penalty.

“Meaningful Use Workgroup Rules Regarding Meaningful Use Stage 2,” from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology requires the following in order to be eligible for the federal bonus;

Higher thresholds (in % of eligible patients, visits or orders)

  • Use computerized physician order entry (CPOE) (from 30% to 60%:
  • CPOE will expand from drug orders to lab and radiology orders)
  • Use e prescribing (from 40% to 50%)
  • Record demographics (from 50% to 80%)
  • Record vital signs (from 50% to 80%)
  • Record smoking status (from 50%to 80%)
  • Use medication reconciliation (from 50% to 80%)

Elective to mandatory requirements

  • Implement drug formulary checks
  • Record existence of advance directives
  • Incorporate lab results as structured data
  • Generate patient lists for specific conditions
  • Send patient reminders
  • Provide summaries of care record
  • Submit immunization data
  • Submit syndromic surveillance data

New measures

  • Use electronic physician notes
  • Offer clinical encounter information for download
  • Offer health record information for download
  • Ensure patient use of online portal
  • Ensure patient use of secure messaging
  • Record patient preferences for communication medium
  • Provide lists of care team members
  • Record longitudinal care plans

Physicians can receive bonuses from Medicare of $44,000 and Medicaid of up to 63,750 for installing and using an eligible EMR system.  These payments (bonus) if you qualify are taxable as ordinary income.

There are several practical problems;

1. Most physicians and physician practices cannot afford the time it takes to find an eligible EMR they can trust.

2. An EMR that might be eligible for federal bonus could cost $70,000 per physician.

3. Physicians cannot visualize the potential payback.

4. Physicians cannot visualize the added value toward improving quality care when quality care has not been adequately defined.

5.Physicians cannot get loans from banks to finance the costs.

6.Most physicians are uncertain about the future of their practices.

Thousands of physicians (3%) are trying to meet stage 1 requirements, which went into effect January 2011.

Eligible EMRs in Stage 1 must be able to meet 15 core measures of functionality and the physician’s choice of five out of 10 elective measures.

In order to meet Stage 2 requirements physicians have to spend more money to upgrade their information system to be eligible.

Unrealistic stage 2 requirements will overly burden physicians and hamper adoption — especially for those physicians in small or solo practice.”

Karen Bell, MD, chair of Certification Commission for Health Information Technology said she “does not believe any vendor’s system can meet stage 2 requirements yet.”

Developing EMR technology is expensive, and vendors don’t want to build complete systems when the standards probably will change in the future.

A Family Practice Group of 4 physicians in Georgia recently spent $75,000 per physician upgrading the practice’s EMR in order to meet meaningful use stage 1 requirements. Five years ago they spent $200,000 to launch their original EMR.

Fulfilling stage 2 requirements will probably cost at least another $75,000 per physician to continue qualifying for federal bonuses.

This Family Practice is chasing its own tail. It is working at the whim of a bureaucracy whose job it is to write regulations and not think of the consequences to practicing physicians.

Wouldn’t it be easier for the federal government to install its approved software in the cloud, upgrade it as necessary and charge physicians by the click?

Wasting $27 billion on bureaucratic regulations is a complicated mistake that is destined to fail.

$27 billion dollars could be better spent on direct patient care and the implementation of my ideal Electronic Medical Record.

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

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