In just a few weeks lies the deadline for all U.S. healthcare providers to comply with the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) federal guidelines, or they will begin paying stiff penalties. This requirement originated out of concern over how best to protect the private information of patients and was included in the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act of 2009.
While on the surface the mandate may sound long overdue, private practices especially, are feeling left out in the cold this winter by a government requirement that will enforce monetary consequences for non-compliance and which seems to have little understanding of the burden it is actually imposing on healthcare’s small business community.
Take for example the story of a private practice in Anchorage, Alaska, solely owned by an ophthalmologist nearing retirement. His story was recently shared via NPR. According to the provider, small practices such as his own do not have the resources to make such a transition. It makes no sense for his business he argues. Why should he take on such a daunting task, scanning decades of his patient’s hard copy files into an EMR system and transferring to ICD 10 codes, when he’s planning to retire within five years and is being given inadequate assistance from the government to do so?
The same government, by the way, that will begin withholding 1% of his Medicare payments as a penalty if he does not comply by January. And that is only the beginning of withholdings which will increase the longer he remains non-compliant.
Either way he loses money. In his case, I don’t blame him for his frustration. He’s not part of a large medical system or healthcare network of hospitals managed by a national team of executives and operations teams that have the resources to do the job.
At age 71, he may now retire before he previously planned. Remember the physician shortage is being felt in rural areas more than any, but yet they’re expected to meet the overwhelming challenges of the new EMR mandate now, or face federal penalties along with the scarcity of providers for their populations who desperately need adequate care. In the state of Alaska for instance, where NPR’s story originated, 50% of doctors are over age 50 and facing the retirement decision themselves.
One can only hope that as healthcare is made available to more Americans and providers are brought up to the speed on the technology to protect the rights of patients, that the coming years will also bring legislation to remedy the side effects of the Affordable Care Act in return.
Mike Gianas is the Director of Communications with Consilium Staffing