A new study finds a large gap between the intent of physicians to apply for electronic health records meaningful use incentive payments and the ability of their systems to be compliant.

The study, published in Health Affairs, analyzed data from the 2011 mail survey supplement to the annual National Ambulatory Medicare Care Survey. Researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Institute of Medicine conducted the study. They found that 91 percent of 3,996 surveyed physicians were eligible for Medicare or Medicaid meaningful use programs and 51 percent intended to apply. But only 11 percent of those intending to apply had enough EHR capabilities to support up to two-thirds of Medicare’s Stage 1 core objectives.

Study authors note that in the final Stage 1 rule, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated that 10 to 36 percent of Medicare-eligible professionals and 15 to 47 percent of Medicaid-eligible professionals would demonstrate meaningful use in 2011. “Our survey results fall at the low end of those ranges.”

“During 2011, the first year of the incentive programs, almost 124,000 eligible professionals, including physicians, had registered for Medicare incentives, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had paid nearly $275 million to 15,000 participants,” study authors say. “Medicaid meaningful use incentives, which flow through states, totaled about $220 million and went to approximately 10,500 physicians.”

“Nonetheless,” authors continue, “our results show that a great discrepancy exists between physicians’ intentions to apply for incentives and their readiness to meet even two-thirds of the core objectives for meaningful use. The 85 percent of physicians likely to be eligible for Medicare incentives face more pressure to meet the criteria.”

The study results show that physicians may be planning to rapidly buy new EHRs with the required capabilities, authors conclude. “Of those intending to apply but not ready, 43 percent reported plans to install a new electronic health record system within the next 18 months.”

The study is available at healthaffairs.org.

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