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EHR Incentives Leave Post-Acute Care Facilities in the Dark Age

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Nearly 50% of all post-acute care facilities expect to be acquired by more technologically advanced companies by the year 2015. While this number may just be part of the usual onslaught of fear that circulates in our unstable economy, those fears could be legitimate for single and stand-alone post-acute care facilities, who have been threatened by rapidly consumption by larger acute facilities for the past several years.

Post-acute care in general–and small post-acute care facilities in particular—have been vulnerable to acquisition since the introduction of electronic health record (EHR) incentive programs. When national incentives were introduced to encourage the healthcare industry, post-acute care facilities were deemed ineligible.

To help streamline quality measurement reports and ideally lead to a reduction of healthcare spending, CMS offers financial incentives to institutions that adopt EHR systems. However, the historically hard-to-regulate post-acute and long-term care facility market is not eligible for EHR incentive programs—perhaps because they aren’t able to provide the extensive information sets that large institutions naturally contribute to the pool of Big Data in the healthcare industry.[1] Although 75% of large non-profit long-term care facilities use EHR programs, without the ability to incentivize or make good use of data-driven healthcare, the “little guy” was left behind in this initial push for technological advancement and, subsequently, their adoption of other advanced technologies continues to lag behind at an exponential rate. Many small post-acute care providers now find themselves in a financial pickle of not having enough money to acquire technological assets and losing out on money because they lack technological assets.

It isn’t that small post-acute care facilities aren’t interested in improving the quality of patient care by using technology. Reflecting the near-unanimous opinion of the healthcare industry that incorporating new technologies is important, 90% of small post-acute care providers believe that their finances could take a major upswing with the help of technological innovation. However, there is an enormous disparity between their values and their reality. This same number of small post-acute care facilities (90%) report that they do not have any money dedicated to technology projects in their 2014 budgets.

The initial exclusion of post-acute care and encouragement of acute practices to take advantage of EHR incentives also appears to have set the tone for the way each industry prioritizes technological advancement. While a whopping 84% of large providers report that they have budgets for innovation and further acquisition, only 10% of small post-acute care facilities are making technological advancement a financial priority. Although small post-acute care facilities see the incorporation of technology as part of a possible solution to their current state of financial insecurity they are unable to focus on resolutions under the pressure of declining reimbursements, which 96% say is their primary focus in 2014.

Providers’ ability to access and share patients’ health records is critical to improving quality patient care and minimizing healthcare costs. If EHR incentives continue to be exclusive of post-acute care it will effect more than just a consolidation of businesses. The erasure of small and single post-acute care facilities systematically neglects patients for the sake of data, and cannot continue if the healthcare industry hopes to retain their integrity. We know the benefits of digital tools in caring for elderly patients. It’s time for the government to put their money where their mouth is.

[1] Link to new “BIG DATA” post

Tom Prose