Report: 9 Out of 10 Radiologists Could Qualify for Meaningful Use Incentives

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Knowledge is power, and it can also provide a significant return for the radiology specialty–to the tune of $1.5 billion, according to a September article published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Many radiologists erroneously think they will not qualify for “meaningful use” incentives. While radiology as a specialty provides specific challenges to MU criteria adoption, a recent article prompts radiologists to pay better attention to equip themselves with the knowledge to cash in on new incentives.

Any radiologist who receives payments of at least $24,000 per year is eligible for up to $44,000 in bonus payments per physician over the next 5 years. To qualify, radiologists must provide 10 percent of services in an outpatient setting which includes urgent care facilities, independent clinics and offices as defined by Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services place of service codes.

“Given that even most hospital-based radiologists provide care for urgent care centers and clinics or offices, the American College of Radiology estimates that perhaps 90 percent of radiologists will be eligible for the CMS incentives,” write the authors, led by Dr. Murray A. Reicher, co-founder of DR Systems Inc. in San Diego. Receiving these payments depends on the radiologists’ ability “to rapidly adopt essential technology and practice workflows.”

The article also states that one of the most obvious hurdles to adoption is a lack of any certified ambulatory electronic health record (EHR) systems or set of ambulatory modules that meet current meaningful use criteria. Still, the biggest mistake a radiologist can make is to do nothing, says Dr. Reicher.

Radiologists can take steps to become involved in hospital selection of technologies and to fully understand the unique specialty-specific issues that stand in the way of their payments.

“It’s a challenge and an opportunity.” says Dr. Reicher. “I’m looking forward to increasing my clinical relevance, improving the clinical information I have available when I read an exam, and having a closer connection to my patients. All that and a $44k bonus…It’s not all bad.”

Most radiologists are exempt from the e-prescribing clinical objective, since they write under 100 prescriptions a year. However, they still need to document that they are using a complete certified EHR. Thus, the hospital, office or imaging center must own e-prescribing technology, even though the radiologist is exempt from using it. “As illogical as this may seem, it is the law,” the article states.

This also means that it is not enough to simply work in a hospital that has a completely certified EHR. Thus, a radiologist must collaborate with the hospital so that the radiologist can document the meeting of meaningful use criteria in radiology workflow.

In addition, at least 50 percent of radiologists’ patient encounters during the reporting period must be equipped with complete certified EHRs. This may be a specific challenge for radiologists who work at hospitals and separate outpatient facilities. If a radiologist’s imaging center doesn’t have an electronic medical record, at least 50 percent of those outpatient encounters must occur at the hospital to qualify. And because the bonus is paid per physician, a busy radiologist group of 10 radiologists will need to divvy up those patient encounters to ensure all physicians qualify, the article states.

“This might make for a tricky physician scheduling challenge for a group practice aiming to have all physicians qualify because each of the physicians would need to have more than 50 percent of their patient encounters (not aggregate group billings) at the site equipped with the complete certified ambulatory EHR,” the article notes.

Radiologists, even those who do not use a complete certified ambulatory EHR, can register here. The last day to begin using certified technology to qualify for full payments is Oct. 1, 2012. After that date, incentives drop and also penalties will take effect in 2015.

“Given the likelihood that hospitals may be biased toward satisfying the inpatient criteria first, it would seem wise for radiologists to become active participants in their hospital information systems planning processes,” the article contends.


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