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AOA helps over 600 ODs earn Medicare EHR incentives

February 19, 2012

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) data shows optometrists are quickly establishing themselves as leaders in the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), according to the AOA Advocacy Group.

Some 614 optometrists qualified for bonus payments during the first 11 months of the department’s Medicare EHR Incentive Program, according to data posted online by the HHS.

That easily places optometry among the top 10 categories of health care providers in terms of successful participation in the Medicare EHR program.

Optometrists have already reaped $11 million in payments through the Medicare EHR Incentive program, the AOA Advocacy Group noted.

“That is a direct result of action by the AOA Advocacy Group over recent years to ensure optometrists are eligible for the Medicare incentive program, as well as an extensive AOA education program to help optometrists implement EHR systems and qualify for incentives,” said AOA President Dori Carlson, O.D.

Optometrists are among the top half-dozen health specialists in terms of successful EHR utilization and easily the leaders in eye care, the HHS data suggests.

Optometrists are qualifying for Medicare EHR incentives at roughly twice the rate of ophthalmologists, the HHS data show.

In all, 22,961 health care practitioners and institutions across the nation earned incentive bonuses under the Medicare EHR program over the first 11 months of the initiative.

Only a handful of generally much larger health care professions have seen more practitioners qualify for Medicare EHR incentives than optometry.

Overall, optometry ranks ninth among all of the various types of health care practitioners and facilities tracked by the HHS for participation in the Medicare EHR program.

Ophthalmology is 16th with 385 practitioners qualifying for EHR payments.

“This is great news. More than 600 individual optometrists have already earned up to $18,000 in incentives under the Medicare EHR program. Moreover, optometry, as a profession, is positioning itself for participation in the nation’s planned new EHR network and success in the coming pay-for-performance reimbursement programs that will be based on data obtained through EHR systems,” said Philip Gross, O.D., chair of the AOA HIT Subcommittee.

Under the Medicare EHR Incentive Program, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2011, health care practitioners can earn up to a total of $44,000 ($48,400 in federally designated health professional shortage areas) over the six-year life of the program if they install EHR systems certified for use under the program and achieve compliance with the program’s EHR utilization criteria, known as “meaning use” standards. 

Qualifying practitioners receive payments based on a percentage of their total Medicare-allowed charged for the year. Practitioners can earn up to $18,000 during their first year in the program alone.

The data released last month by the HHS covers only practitioners who have earned payments under the Medicare EHR Incentive Program. 

Medicaid offers a separate EHR incentive program for practitioners not participating in the Medicare EHR program. 

Optometrists can qualify for the Medicaid EHR program in five states.

The total number of optometrists qualifying for payments during the first year of the Medicare EHR incentive program could still increase, Dr. Gross noted.

The bulk of optometrists participating in the Medicare EHR program last year attested in the last quarter of the year, the AOA Advocacy Group believes, and those attesting in December were not reflected in the data released by the HHS last month.

One major optometric EHR vendor, EMRlogic, told AOA News that more than 50 of its clients were expected to  attest compliance for the Medicare EHR reporting period that ended on Dec. 31.

Practitioners who met the meaningful use standards during 2011 can still report compliance and earn bonuses until Feb. 29, the AOA Advocacy Group noted.

Over the past 18 months, the AOA Clinical and Practice Advancement Group has conducted an extensive “EHR Preparedness Program for Optometry” to assist AOA member optometrists in implementing electronic records programs, Dr. Gross noted.

Over the past 10 months, hundreds of AOA members attended the association’s “Enhancing Patient Care through the Implementation of Electronic Health Records” course at state optometric association meetings or Optometry’s Meeting®, Dr. Gross said.

A new, expanded version of the AOA EHR education program, “Navigating Meaningful Use, Quality Reporting, and e-Prescribing with Electronic Health Records” is being offered at optometric meetings this year.

Dr. Gross also cited the rapid introduction of EHR products for optometric practices over the past year as a factor in the early acceptance of EHR technology among optometrists around the nation.

According to the HHS report, the commercially available EHR systems most commonly used by optometrists in qualifying for Medicare incentive payments last year were the Eyefinity/Office Mate Examwriter (with 225 users earning incentives), Compulink Advantage EHR (133), Epic Systems Ambulatory Core EHR (51), Medflow’s Medflow EHR (44), and the Revolution EHR system developed by Health Innovation Technologies Inc. (14).  

Together, those five EHR systems, along with an in-house system developed by Missouri-based Clarkson Eye Care, accounted for more than 85 percent of the successful Medicare EHR incentive program attestations by optometrists last year, the HHS data indicated.

Missouri so far is the state with the greatest number of optometrists (66) qualified for Medicare EHR incentive payments – due in large part to the successful efforts by St. Louis-based Clarkson Eye Care to develop and implement an in-house EHR system for all of its locations. 

Missouri is followed by Florida (35), Texas (35), Massachusetts (31) and Kansas – where the Kansas Optometric Association helped to organize the nation’s first statewide provider-led EHR network and optometrists early on led all health care practitioners in participation.

In nearly all states, more optometrists have qualified for Medicare EHR incentives than ophthalmologists.

For additional information on the Medicare EHR Incentive Program, see the AOA Web site EHR page (www.aoa.org/EHR).

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