On October 30, 2007, Secretary Mike Leavitt  of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced on HHS.gov a five-year demonstration project that will encourage small to medium-sized physician practices to adopt electronic health records (EHRs).   In the federal government’s Press Release, Secretary Leavitt stated: 

This demonstration is designed to show that streamlining health care management with electronic health records will reduce medical errors and improve quality of care for 3.6 million Americans.  By linking higher payment to use of EHRs to meet quality measures, we will encourage adoption of health information technology at the community level, where 60 percent of patients receive care . . . We also anticipate that EHRs will produce significant savings for Medicare over time by improving quality of care.  This is another step in our ongoing effort to become a smart purchaser of health care — paying for better, rather than simply paying for more.”

CMS will recruit about 100 physician practices of three to five physicians for each of 12 demonstration programs.  Under the programs, Medicare will pay bonuses for practices that use EHRs to report on and manage quality.  The level of bonuses has not yet been determined. 

Questions that will be asked specifically about EHRs will include: 

(1) What are the costs and savings from maximum use of EHRs?

(2) What affect does EHR use have on quality?

(3) What are other incentives for adoption?

(4) How does implementation of EHRs effect the work flow of practices?

(5) What is the degree of EHR functionality that practices actually use?  

The findings of the demonstration study could offer physicians proof that investing the time and money to covert their paper practices to EHRs is worth while . . . or not.  Many proponents of EHR maintain that implementation increases a practice’s efficiency, quality of care, and has financial benefits over time.  If the demonstration project provides hard support to this effect, providers could be encouraged to implement electronic health record systems for their practices.