New Government Regulations Driving Healthcare’s Demand for Equipment Financing
Have you ever stood in a doctor’s office and stared at the seemingly endless rows of color-coded file folders lining every spare inch of the office? It is a scene we are all familiar with because the healthcare profession still maintains vital medical records the old fashioned way – handwritten notes, stuffed in manila folders, and stored on shelves or in file cabinets.
The federal government is seeking to change this system by promoting wide-spread usage of electronic health records (EHR) and providing financial incentives so physicians, hospitals, clinics and other medical services facilities are able to implement EHR systems. New government regulations will automate and streamline the physician’s workflow to improve patient safety and the quality of patient care. This industry-wide transformation is driving demand for new equipment and system upgrades.
Despite leading the world in IT development for sectors such as banking, communications and transportation, the United States has lagged behind other industrialized nations in the race to adopt EHRs and modernize its healthcare system. Some of the world’s leading users of this technology include the Netherlands, where 98% of primary-care providers use EHR systems, New Zealand and Australia, with 92% and 89% use respectively, according to a 2009 Commonwealth Fund survey.
Recently, however, US adoption rates of EHRs have improved. At the 2011 Annual Conference for HIMSS, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius highlighted increases in the use of EHRs by US patient care providers in what she called “a revolution in healthcare.” Secretary Sebelius cited 2008 figures that showed only 10% of hospitals, and just fewer than 20% of doctors, use basic EHRs. Over the last two years, according to Ms. Sebelius, the percent of doctors using electronic records has increased to almost 30, and four out of five hospitals say they are planning to apply for government incentive payments by 2015 that will require them to meet meaningful use standards in EHRs.
Paper-based medical records lead to inevitable inefficiencies, and possible life-threatening errors. The aim of the federal regulations is to reduce data entry errors, speed the sharing of patient information, and minimize the time spent on preparing charts in advance of appointments. In order for electronic medical records to be truly effective, all healthcare providers who have a meaningful impact on patient care – from generalists to specialists – must meet the “meaningful use” standards.
Overview of the “HITECH” Act
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $19 billion in funding for the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, aimed at advancing the adoption of electronic health records. The HITECH Act provides incentive payments for healthcare providers who implement EHR systems and meet “meaningful use” requirements. Penalties for those who fail to comply with these requirements will begin in 2015. The tight timeframe for achieving meaningful use and receiving the financial benefits will drive significant demand.
The objective of the HITECH Act was to encourage the use of EHRs in a meaningful manner while improving the quality of care through the efficiencies the electronic exchange of healthcare information creates. The financial incentives provided under the HITECH Act come in the form of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
Achieving Meaningful Use
To receive the financial incentives and avoid penalties, medical providers must demonstrate that they are using the equipment and software in a meaningful way. Simply purchasing new software and hardware will not qualify a provider for incentive payments. Healthcare providers must demonstrate their usage of the equipment in a meaningful way, as defined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), thereby reducing the redundancy and cost of patient care.
Meaningful use will be implemented in three stages, with stage one covering 2011 and 2012. For full details on the HITECH Act and the meaningful use requirements please visit the CMS website at www.cms.gov or the Office of the National Coordinator for Healthcare Information Technology’s website at www.healthit.hhs.gov.
Once approved, healthcare providers will be eligible for $40,000 to $65,000 in incentive payments. Federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, children’s hospitals and other healthcare facilities are also eligible for funding through CMS.
The incentive payments for providers will be phased out over time, and Medicare/Medicaid payments will be reduced for those who fail to adopt certified electronic health records. Those not meeting the meaningful use requirements will see the incentives turn to penalties if meaningful use is not met by 2015.
Factors Driving Investment
Compliance with the new regulations means medical providers will need to invest in new IT hardware, software, and services. Purchasing the necessary equipment could cost tens of thousands of dollars for a small practice and carry a significantly higher price tag for larger practices and healthcare facilities. This required investment comes at a time when the healthcare industry, like most US industries, faces significant budgetary constraints.
During the recession, healthcare providers deferred investments in equipment upgrades to protect their own financial well-being. To cope with the recessionary environment, medical providers have been forced to improve quality, reduce costs, and increase transparency. In these tight budgetary times, medical providers cannot afford noncompliance. The built-up demand created by those deferrals, accompanied with the government initiatives, will drive new equipment purchases and installations.
Providers are looking to preserve their cash reserves and credit facilities to deliver services, fund operations, and undertake projects that are not easily financed. Installing the technology early will help healthcare providers to demonstrate “meaningful use” in order to qualify for the federal stimulus incentives provided by the HITECH Act. Therefore, it is increasingly important for them to team-up with a knowledgeable financing partner to acquire and deploy the necessary hardware, software, and services to evolve their businesses to comply with the new regulations and satisfy the meaningful use requirements.
Healthcare Providers Have Multiple Financing Options
By acquiring the necessary equipment through a lease, healthcare providers get access to the cutting edge technology needed to deliver best-in-class patient care without bearing the full up-front cost of ownership. Term financing enables the lessee to match a long-term capital acquisition with a long-term finance solution.
Medical professionals need to partner with healthcare equipment manufacturers, software providers, and IT professionals to satisfy the meaningful use requirements. The acquisition and implementation of these systems present a significant growth opportunity for finance providers who understand the industry and regulatory framework, and who can provide financing solutions within the industry’s budgetary restraints.
In summary, as the healthcare industry continues to upgrade technology and equipment to comply with federal regulations, there is a growing demand for equipment financing solutions tailored to the healthcare industry. The good news is that healthcare providers are looking for knowledgeable financing partners that can work with them to provide best-in-class healthcare and qualify for federal stimulus incentives to offset the cost of deployment.
Source: World Leasing News/Leasing Finance Blogs