Electronic medical records (EMR) are the way of the future for practices of all sizes. While a number of practices have adopted an electronic system of storing medical records in the last 20 years, others continue to pursue the traditional format. Many practitioners worry about the cost of an EMR system, as well as patient privacy. Until recently, there was no mandate to approach these concerns, but with the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), this has changed. A new electronic medical records mandate was added to PPACA to ensure the protection of privacy while streamlining the EMR system. This electronic records mandate is set to take effect in 2014.
Electronic Medical Records Legislation
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. The act was crafted in hopes of reforming the healthcare industry by making insurance more affordable and accessible to a greater range of patients. A variety of provisions, such as a mandate for all Americans to obtain health insurance coverage, are included in PPACA. Additionally, insurance companies are no longer able to drop patients due to pre-existing conditions. Other changes include requiring fast food restaurants to post nutritional information and allowing adult dependents to remain on their parents' insurance plans until age 26.
One PPACA change largely overshadowed by the mandate requirement was the electronic medical records mandate. Mandates put in place under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) were reaffirmed and strengthened in PPACA.
HIPAA legislation was originally passed in 1996 to detect and eliminate insurance fraud committed with the, then newly developed, electronic records system. One of the more significant changes from HIPAA to the PPACA was the addition of the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI), under which physicians are encouraged to make greater use of electronic medical records technology. Under PQRI and PPACA, $27 billion will be directed toward the adoption of EMR technology. The funding for this electronic medical records legislation will be expended over the course of 10 years. At the end of that span, the hope is that the majority of, if not all, practices will have improved efficiency and service through the implementation of electronic medical records.
Electronic Medical Records Implementation
To encourage medical practices to implement EMR technology, the federal government has created an incentive program: Professionals able to meet specific federal requirements for EMR are eligible to receive up to $44,000 through the Medicare Electronic Health Records Incentive Program. Additionally, professionals providing service in an area deemed a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) may be eligible for extra incentives above and beyond the initial $44,000.
The incentives for institutions go even further with base payments for eligible institutions beginning at $2 million. The requirements for institutions are relatively more stringent than those given to individual professionals, but the incentives are certainly significant, especially in the midst of a struggling economy.
To ensure that institutions are making appropriate use of new electronic medical records technology (and the funding that goes along with it), several meaningful use requirements have been established. These include structured formats for areas such as medical billing, patient records and employee communication. The goal is for these standards to guide practices as they attempt to make better use of new technology. If successful, this electronic medical records mandate will result in a healthcare system that provides better care and a greater level of affordability.