American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

Basic EHR Starter Guide

In order to receive the electronic health record (EHR) incentive payment, an eligible professional (EP) must show that he or she is meaningfully using certified EHR. This Basic Starter Guide addresses some of the issues related to showing meaningful use of a certified EHR.

  • Register for the program: Starting January 1, 2011, EPs may register for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs via the CMS website.
  • Understand the timeline: The Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs begin in 2011. The bonus payments begin in 2011 for EPs who are meaningfully using certified EHRs, and a penalty can be applied as early as 2015 to EPs who are not meaningfully using certified EHRs.
  • Learn about the payment amounts: The payment amounts will vary based on which EHR Incentive Program the EP participates in (Medicare or Medicaid), which calendar year the EP starts demonstrating meaningful use, and how many years the EP has successfully participated in the program. For more information on the payment amounts see page 8 of the May 2010 Bulletin article related to the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program.
  • Identify whether your state is participating in Medicaid: Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs are run by individual states. Please contact your state Medicaid program to find if your state is participating. You can also check the Medicare state information page of the CMS EHR website for updates on the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program progress.
  • Choose between the Medicare or Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs: Most surgeons who meaningfully use certified EHR technology will qualify for the Medicare incentive payments. To qualify for the Medicaid incentive payments, an EP must meaningfully use certified EHRs and at least 30 percent of all patient encounters in a continuous 90-day period in the most recent calendar year must be with Medicaid patients. However, not all states have committed to participating in the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program. The requirement for meaningfully using certified EHRs, the timelines, and the payment amounts differ for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Payment Programs. To read more, visit Medicare vs. Medicaid.
  • Understand what it means for an EHR to be “certified”: The EHR incentive payments will only be available to those EPs that meaningfully use certified EHRs. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) establishes the standards, implementation specifications, and certification criteria that will determine whether an EHR is certified for the EHR Incentive Programs. For more information on the ONC criteria, see the ONC website.
  • Choose an EHR product: The ONC website lists EHR products and vendors that have been certified for the EHR Incentive Programs.

Many considerations go into selecting and implementing an EHR product and negotiating the EHR vendor contract. Read about the the important issues that an EHR vendor contract should include.

If you have further questions about the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program, please contact Molly Peltzman at or 202-672-1506.