Despite Benefits, Hurdles Remain for EHR

Even though health IT efforts are worthwhile despite the costs, two anecdotal newspaper stories illustrate the serious roadblocks to implementation.

Under the 2009 economic stimulus package, providers can qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments if they demonstrate successful use of electronic health records. That could pump more then $25 billion worth of incentives into the economy over the next decade.

Despite these benefits, doctors have been slow in implementing EHR. According to a Wall Street Journal report, hospitals are ramping up training for staff in order to qualify for these benefits. Plans include converting vacant facilities into training centers, and using other physicians as teachers during training.

However, many doctors are reluctant to adopt EHR.

According to iHealthBeat, many of the EHR systems do not give health care providers the flexibility they want in examining patients. For data input reasons, the systems usually require doctors to ask questions in a certain order.

A recent Washington Post report highlights other hurdles facing providers. As with all things electronic, there are both privacy and implementation challenges.

In the case of privacy, advocacy groups are urging stricter privacy laws to apply to the systems. Data encryption on the systems can be disabled easily by a user, violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Such violations come with stiff penalties.

As for implementation, the expense is cited as a primary concern. The systems can cost up to $50,000 per physician. Speaking to the Washington Post, Eugene Sussman, a DC-area pediatrician, estimated the subsidies would only cover a small fraction -- 15 percent -- of the cost. Sussman, who is 64, also mentioned age as a factor in the decision to adopt EHR:

The costs "are the biggest holdback nationwide," said Sussman. "Doctors who are my age, in their early 60s, maybe will retire out. They may think, 'I don't need this bother; it's going to cost more money and cost more time.'"

Despite the incentives being pushed, it may take more time than money to implement EHR.