Federal programs offering financial incentives to physicians who adopt electronic health record solutions have boosted the number of participants who use them, Weill Cornell Medical College researchers found in a new study. But in the process, systematic differences have emerged between physicians who consistently participated in the programs and those who did not, which could lead to disparities in patient care. The study, examined 26,368 physicians across New York State. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the state Department of Health provided payment data from 2011 to 2012, the first two years that the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 — the law that established the $30 billion Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs — was in effect. The researchers found that participation in the Medicaid incentive program rose from 6.1 percent to 8.5 percent between the two years, and that participation in the Medicare incentive program rose from 8.1 percent to 23.9 percent. Both programs are run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They also discovered that early and consistent participants had greater financial resources, more organizational capacity to support the use of health information technology and prior experience with technology. The findings illuminate the challenges in moving from EHR adoption to actual use of the systems, the investigators say, which could potentially impact patient care and larger healthcare policy initiatives. "Those physicians who adopted the program may provide higher quality care to their patients," said lead author Dr. Hye-Young Jung, an assistant professor of healthcare policy and research at Weill Cornell. "This difference may create a digital divide." If a digital divide develops, patients of doctors who keep paper — not electronic — records will have less reliable documentation and weaker communication between their healthcare providers. Those patients will not benefit from any quality improvements created by EHRs that are supported by the programs. To read the full release, click here.