The Carrot is Mightier Than the Stick

The coiners of maxims about relative strength -- the pen is mightier than the sword. Superman's more powerful than a locomotive. Love conquers all -- have long overlooked the humble carrot.

The coiners of maxims about relative strength -- the pen is mightier than the sword. Superman's more powerful than a locomotive. Love conquers all -- have long overlooked the humble carrot.

A gargantuan Chernobylesque tuber could change that. The carrot in question is $20 billion of financial incentives that the feds are dangling before health care providers in hopes of spurring adoption of electronic medical records. The incentives are meant to offset acquisition costs that have impeded widespread use of the technology.

It seems to be working.

Some 72 percent of hospitals and providers say their IT budgets will likely increase this year, up from 55 percent in 2009, according to the 21st annual leadership survey recently released by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. More than two out of every five respondents said their single IT priority in the coming year is attainment of "meaningful use," the standard that providers must meet to receive a chunk of the billions in stimulus funds set aside by Congress for health IT.

Reverse incentives, in the form of penalties, will come into play in 2015. For now, though, the carrot is mightier than the stick.