More than 80 percent of hospitals have yet to achieve the requirements for the first stage of a $14.6 billion U.S. program to encourage doctors to adopt electronic medical records, the industry’s largest trade group said.
The program is too ambitious and goals may not be met, Rick Pollack, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association, said yesterday in a 68-page letter to the Health and Human Services Department. He cited “the high bar set and market factors, such as accelerating costs and limited vendor capacity.”
The records program, enacted as part of the economic stimulus law in 2009, makes hospitals eligible for payments of as much as $11.5 million if they can demonstrate “meaningful use” of computer systems, according to the Washington-based group. Hospitals and doctors who don’t adopt electronic records by 2015 will be penalized with lower Medicare payments.
Incentives will be paid out in three stages; the Obama administration issued proposed rules for the second stage in February.
Meeting goals for the program is also being complicated by a widening “digital divide” between large urban hospitals and small rural ones, with big hospitals adopting the technology faster than small ones, according to Pollack’s letter.
Hospitals are “particularly concerned,” he said, about a requirement in the new rules that they let patients view and download their medical records from websites. The requirement “is not feasible as proposed, raises significant security issues and goes well beyond current technical capacity,” Pollack wrote.
Patients’ inability to easily download records from doctors and hospitals has hampered development of personal medical records systems such as a Google Inc. (GOOG) program that was shut down last year after it failed to gain enough users, said Farzad Mostashari, who leads the electronic records program at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Representative Renee Ellmers, a North Carolina Republican, plans to send a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services this week opposing the rules for the second stage of the program, on behalf of small doctors’ practices, said her spokesman, Darrell Jordan, in an e-mail.
Ellmers is chairman of the House Small Business Committee’s health-care subcommittee.
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