According to a data brief released recently by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, and as reported by Healthcare IT News, financial incentives and potential penalties are key motivators for physicians adopting electronic health records since 2009.

The brief, based on data from the 2013 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, details why physicians have chosen to adopt or not adopt EHRs. According to ONC's data, 62 percent of physicians who adopted EHRs after the implementation of the HITECH Act in 2009 did so because of financial incentives or penalties. By comparison, 23 percent of physicians who adopted EHRs prior to 2009 did so because of incentives or penalties.

Under the 2009 federal economic stimulus package, healthcare providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHRs can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments.

Additionally, the capability for electronic data exchange also drove EHR adoption among:

  • 36 percent of physicians who adopted EHRs after 2009
  • 27 percent of those who adopted EHRs before 2009

Among physicians who are not yet using EHRs, the data showed that:

  • 34 percent have applied or will apply for incentive funds
  • 28 percent will not apply for such funds
  • 28 percent are undecided.

Of those who plan to use EHRs, 51 percent said they would adopt the technology because of incentive payments or financial penalties.

Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of physicians who said they would not adopt EHRs said it was because of a lack of resources, including funding, time and staff. Further, about 20 percent of those doctors said that no EHR systems fit the needs of their specialty.

According to the brief, "The need to share patient information with other providers and the use of financial incentives are key drivers in why many providers adopt and use health information technology tools like electronic health records."

The data highlights the high level of importance providers put on health information exchange. The data also demonstrates the importance of incentive programs like the HITECH Act's Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs (meaningful use).

"We have seen a significant increase in the adoption and use of health IT systems among providers, and the new data shows the importance of incentives in building an interoperable health IT system," Karen DeSalvo, M.D., national coordinator for health IT and acting assistant secretary of health, said in a statement.

"National delivery system reform initiatives linked to certified technology, such as the separately billable chronic care management services, will help make the electronic use and sharing of health information a reality."

The data brief found that the ability to easily share electronic information with other caregivers — an important component of chronic care management — is also a major motivation for physicians to adopt EHRs. Among physicians who adopted health IT before incentive funds were available, the ability to electronically exchange clinical information with other healthcare providers was the greatest motivator for adoption.

More than a third of physicians who adopted EHRs after HITECH was enacted cited this capability as a major influence in their decision to adopt, and almost 4 in 10 physicians who were not using an EHR reported that the ability to electronically exchange clinical information would be a major driver in their decision to adopt.