Nearly two years after ARRA established a federal incentive program to encourage healthcare providers to adopt and “meaningfully use” EHRs, the first payments were announced January 5.
One of the very first organizations to receive a payment was the University of Kentucky HealthCare, which received an initial payment of $2.86 million through the Medicaid incentive program.
Carol Steltenkamp, UK HealthCare’s chief medical information officer, said the organization will use the initial payment to upgrade its EHR to a certified, improved system. She looks forward to improved patient outcomes.
“I am passionate about this because I am still a practicing physician, and to be able to see this and how it truly has the opportunity to positively affect the care that we provide our patients is just marvelous,” she said.
In the first stage of the incentive program, eligible providers and hospitals can receive funding to adopt, implement, or upgrade to an EHR system certified by an Office of the National Coordinator Authorized Testing and Certification Body.
The Medicaid program is different from the Medicare EHR incentive program, which will begin paying incentives this spring to providers who “meaningfully use” certified systems by meeting specified measures. The Medicaid program will eventually transition to a measures-based incentive program.
First Come, First Served
UK HealthCare was among the first to receive a payment because it was one of the first to complete the federal and state application processes, Steltenkamp said.
“UK HealthCare has always strongly believed in electronic health records and our movement toward that,” she said. “We all thought it was important, and so we really put an effort behind applying for incentives.”
It helped that the organization is also home to the Kentucky regional extension center, an entity created through ARRA to help Kentucky critical-access hospitals and physician offices implement EHR systems and obtain federal incentives.
The REC did not directly aid UK HealthCare in obtaining Medicaid incentives, but many of the people involved with the REC work closely with UK HealthCare, including Steltenkamp, who serves as the Kentucky REC program director. Staff thus were aware of the incentive program early and were well-versed in the application process, which helped the organization secure funding so quickly, Steltenkamp said.
“It was really a nice coordination of efforts, because we do have the same folks [REC and hospital staff] in the room,” she said. “We understand the process and have our eye on the target, albeit a moving target sometimes.”
Inpatient, Ambulatory, and Portal Upgrades Planned
UK healthcare’s incentive payments are expected to eventually total more than $7 million. The organization will use the funding to upgrade its current inpatient and ambulatory EHR systems, allowing it to create a more comprehensive, longitudinal patient record accessible to providers anywhere in the UK HealthCare system, Steltenkamp said.
The system’s patient portal will also receive an upgrade, allowing patients better access to their health records and more interaction with providers. Steltenkamp expects the upgrades will also improve the organization’s ability to exchange records through its state-level health information exchange.
The incentive program could be the push needed to spur nationwide EHR implementation, Steltenkamp believes.
“The healthcare community across the country, we have been talking about this for a while now, and the fact that it has come to fruition—that it is real—is very exciting,” she said.