Government researchers have found evidence that a federal incentive program may be succeeding at encouraging office-based physicians to make more use of electronic medical record (EMR) and electronic health record (EHR) systems.
The percentage of practices using some kind of EMR or EHR system has increased to 72 percent this year, from 57 percent in 2011, and from 48 percent in 2009, the year the law creating the program took effect, according to Chun-Ju Hsiao and Esther Hing.
The percentage of practices using what the government defines as a "basic system" is now up to about 40 percent, rising from 34 percent in 2011 and from 22 percent in 2009.
Hsiao and Hing, researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), have included that data in an EHR paper posted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The researchers based their paper on an NCHS mail survey of 10,302 physicians. About 67 percent of the physicians returned the survey.
In practice, regulators, researchers and others tend to use the terms EMR and EHR as synonyms.
Some health information specialists prefer to use the term EMR to refer a care provider's own legal documentation of the care provided and EHR to refer to a collection of information that includes some data from the EMR, data from the patient, and, in some cases, data from more than one provider.
Members of Congress included funding for a formal EHR adoption incentive program in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The EHR incentive program is supposed to encourage doctors and hospitals that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients to shift to EHR systems.
The program encourages providers to use EHR system by paying bonuses to providers that show they are moving toward "meaningful use" of the systems.
CMS has estimated it will pay a total of $6.6 billion in EHR use bonuses by 2016.
The NCHS researchers found that about 66 percent of all office-based practices hope to qualify for EHR incentive payments, with the percentage showing interest in the incentives ranging from 48 percent in Alaska to 82 percent in South Dakota.
But the researchers warned that fewer than 27 percent of the physicians who want to qualify for the EHR incentive payments seem to have systems that already meet the 2012 eligibility criteria.