As physicians switch to electronic health records (EHRs), unforeseen expenses can add up quickly to send implementation costs and annual budgets into the red.
While the EHR incentive payments will help compensate physicians for the cost of switching to EHR systems, many experts believe the money covers just a fraction of the true cost.
The Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs offer $44,000 to $63,750 per eligible physician to offset the cost of EHR implementation.
To qualify for the maximum incentive payment, providers are scrambling to deploy the necessary technology to meet the 2012 eligibility deadline.
Average EHR Cost
The average total first year cost of an EHR system is $46,659 per physician, according to data from the Institute for Healthcare Research and Improvement at Baylor HealthCare System. The Medicare EHR Incentive Program offers $44,000 over five years – which doesn’t even cover first year costs.
The main reason for implementing EHRs is to improve patient care, but it seems that the incentive program is driving physicians to make hasty decisions in choosing an EHR platform.
This could lead to unexpected initial, ongoing and future EHR expenses for healthcare providers who don’t choose wisely.
Initial EHR Costs
Implementation, hardware, training, data conversion, template customization and software licensing costs add up quickly in the first year of switching to an EHR system.
One option for practices looking to save time and money is cloud-based EHRs, which mitigate large up-front hardware and IT staff expenditures. Physicians pay for their EHR like a service with a lower cost of entry and predictable monthly rates.
Ongoing EHR Costs
Licensing, maintenance and Internet fees for EHR systems will be a regular expenditure, but should only be a fraction of the first year cost.
According to CDW’s 2011 Cloud Computing Tracking Poll, 88 percent of healthcare organizations that utilize cloud computing reduced IT costs by an average of 20 percent annually.
Unexpected EHR Costs
While the largest expenditure should occur in the first year, there could easily be a time down the line where upgrades cost practices just as much.
Changes in regulatory standards may require costly software updates, while hardware upgrades and operation expansion could also lead to significant capital outlay.
However, many practices are choosing the automatic updates, minimal hardware requirements and flexibility of cloud-based EHRs to help prevent these unexpected costs.
The switch to EHRs is inevitable for most healthcare providers, but taking the time to research the most cost-effective solution will pay off in the long run – whether you get the maximum incentive payment or not.
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