Uncertainty slows physician investments in EHRs

February 16, 2017

A new administration in Washington, D.C., will likely impact federal regulations around EHRs, so physicians should cautiously move forward.

Federal regulations, financial incentives and reimbursements under former President Barack Obama drove wide-scale adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems and other technology within the healthcare industry.

But federal mandates on EHRs soon could be gone.

It’s no secret, of course, that President Donald Trump plans to take the government, including its healthcare policies, in a different direction, prompting many questions about which existing and proposed health IT regulations will stay, which will go and which will be modified.

“It’s such an uncertain time, and physicians are asking, ‘What do we do now with everything in flux?’” said Robert M. Tennant, MA, director of health information technology policy at the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

While the MGMA, other healthcare leaders and medical providers await news regarding the future of existing rules and requirements along potential new mandates and directives from the Trump administration, Tennant said physicians might want to retreat from investing in new EHRs or big-ticket EHR upgrades if there’s no return on investment  beyond meeting federal regulations.

But he also said physicians shouldn’t freeze their planning activities on this front while they’re waiting for Washington, D.C., to work out the next steps.

Instead, he’s advising physicians to develop their plans for IT investments in conjunction with EHR vendors now, so they can move when future requirements become clearer.

“The first thing I’d recommend is that the practice develop a set of questions that they should ask their existing EHR vendor,” he said, explaining that physicians should inquire whether their vendor will be upgrading its software to the so-called 2015 Certification Rules for Meaningful Use (which for now still remain in place with a 2018 deadline), how much the upgrade if available will cost the practice, whether the vendor will offer training for the upgrade, and whether the upgrade will require hardware upgrades.

“I’d say prepare with the questions, but don’t spend the money yet,” Tennant said. “You want to arm yourself with all the important information, so once things are more decided in Washington, you can pull the trigger and decide if you’re going to upgrade or not.”

Next: Continuing the health IT momentum

 

Continuing the health IT momentum

Vince Vickers, a principal at consulting firm KPMG who advises on healthcare and life sciences, said he has also seen how the political shift has produced uncertainty around government requirements related to EHRs and indecision among physicians investing in health IT. However, he said the uncertainty doesn’t mean all investment is in limbo.

Vickers noted that most healthcare professionals agree that the industry had to do more to digitize, even if they found some of the federal programs and mandates that started with the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 difficult or downright painful.

“Most would agree that something needed to be done to get inefficiencies out of healthcare, there needed to be interoperability, there needed to be an improvement in the quality of care and a reduction in the cost of care. And I would argue all those things remain in terms of improvement opportunities,” he said.

Given that those opportunities still exist, he advises physicians to continue leveraging new technologies to improve in those areas.

“Regardless of how you got on the path, whether you liked it or not, or regardless how expensive it has been, you should continue,” he said. “We might have to make some adjustments to conform to whatever new regulations might be coming or whatever reduction of regulations might be coming, but we still have the underlying premise that we have improvements to make.”

He said the next wave of spending for EHRs and other health IT for now should focus on adding functions that bring further efficiencies and costs savings – functions that can be worthwhile investments while everyone waits for the dust to settle in the nation’s capital.