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Mandatory Implementation of Electronic Dental Records Required by 2014 to Avoid Penalties and to Take Advantage of Incentive Programs

Anthony E. Stewart
Hall Booth Smith, P.C. - Atlanta Office

October 4, 2013

Previously published on September 30, 2013

It would be the understatement of the year to say that we have officially reached the digital age. Everywhere you look, you see people glued to their smartphones, tablets and laptop computers. Patients, and dentists alike, are obsessed with Facebook, texting, tweeting and, of course, the occasional attempts at Candy Crush Saga (or other similarly addictive game). However, not everyone has jumped on the technology bandwagon. In several dental practices across the country, computers are virtually obsolete, and electronic dental records is a foreign concept.

For those of you who have not yet implemented electronic dental records in your dental practice, it is important to note that the federal government passed legislation that requires you to make the transition to electronic records before 2014, unless the implementation would result in a "significant hardship." However, the maximum exemption period is five years, and ultimately, you will still be required to implement electronic dental record.

While the implementation of an electronic dental record system is undoubtedly expensive, you may be eligible to receive generous incentive payments from the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs to offset the costs. The Medicare EHR Incentive Program offers eligible dentists up to $39,000 in incentive payments over the next five years (if you qualify to receive your first payment in 2013), and the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program offers eligible dentists up to $63,750 in incentive payments over six years. To qualify for these incentive programs, 1) you must maintain at least a 30% Medicaid patient volume for a 90-day period in the past 12 months; or 2) you must practice predominantly in a Federally Qualified Health Center or Rural Health Center and at least 30% of your patients are "needy individuals."

Additionally, in order to qualify for these incentive programs, the electronic dental record program must be put to "meaningful use." Several dentists assume that they cannot meet this "meaningful use" requirement since many of the measures do not reflect the clinical work done in a dental practice. This is not true; dentists can interpret the "meaningful use" measures to track what is or is not done in the normal scope of his or her practice. If a certain "meaningful use" measure does not apply to your practice, you are entitled to take an exclusion for that measure.

If you decide not to take advantage of these incentive programs, and fail to transition over to electronic dental records, you can expect to see monetary penalties (in the form of reductions in Medicare reimbursements) coming your way in 2015. The reductions will start out at 1%; however, the reductions will increase each year to a maximum of 5%. Additionally, long-term consequences may include: 1) difficulty in selling your practice; and 2) an exodus of patients who prefer a practice that utilizes electronic medical records.

While transitioning to an electronic health record system is a costly and time-consuming adventure, now is the time to make the transition. Take advantage of the generous incentive programs, and avoid monetary penalties by beginning your transition today.


The views expressed in this document are solely the views of the author and not Martindale-Hubbell. This document is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for consultation with a licensed legal professional in a particular case or circumstance.

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