No Longer a Choice, Incentives Effectively Mandate Electronic Communication for ODs

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Encouraging practitioners to embrace technology that electronically stores and shares patients' medical records goes hand in hand with the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

In 2009, Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act to promote the adoption and Meaningful Use of health information technology. The Act not only provided financial incentives for practitioners who implemented the Meaningful Use of certified electronic health records (EHR) software in their practices between its passing and 2014, but it also reduces Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for those who cannot document "Meaningful Use" of such a system by 2015.

While EHR systems were gradually establishing a foothold in eyecare professionals' offices prior to the passage of the HITECH Act, since then the financial incentives provided by that legislation have encouraged the implementation of EHR to grow exponentially.

As of Sept. 2013, 13,089 optometrists have registered for the Medicare EHR incentive program, and 9,080 optometrists have received incentive payments of more than $157 million over the course of the program

Ensuring that optometrists along with other medical professionals and institutions responsible for the care of patients are equipped with electronic health records is just the first step toward building a network that enables them to communication electronically. The next step requires that they communicate with each other and with their patients via health information exchanges and through patient portals. Ultimately, the goal is to improve patient care and patient outcomes.

This increase in electronic communication will have an impact on all those involved with managed vision care benefits. "Technology will play a bigger part in communication as we move forward," said Bob Stein, chief professional development officer, National Vision. "One of the initiatives under discussion within various groups within the industry is the establishment of electronic communication standards for both member eligibility and benefit availability."

Ultimately, the goal is to enable practitioners and patients the opportunity to access their medical records, from anywhere they have internet access at any time.

The use of health information exchanges is already proving effective. According to a study released in October by the American College of Emergency Physicians, physicians' access to a health information exchange saved more than $1 million in emergency care costs over a one-year period. In addition, 89 percent of participants said the use of the health information exchange resulted in improved quality of patient care and 82 percent said it saved time.