CIOs surveyed (download PDF) last month by the College of Health Information Management Executives, or Chimes, appear cautiously optimistic about their chances to get e-health stimulus funding as part of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Chimes said 152 of its 1,400 member CIOs responded to the survey, and that 28% indicated that they expect to qualify for stimulus funding during the first six months of fiscal year 2011, which starts October 1. Meanwhile, 62% reported that they expect to qualify between April 1 and Sept. 30, 2012, which will mark the end of Stage 1 of the incentive programme.

Only 10% of respondents indicated that they don't expect to qualify for stimulus funds until 2013 or 2014.

The Office of the National Coordinator has set a 2015 deadline for health care professionals and facilities to show they are using electronic medical records (EMR) in meaningful ways.

The EMR timetable is set in stone under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. The HITECH Act mandates that health care entities must implement EMRs by 2015 or face monetary penalties in the form of reductions in Medicare reimbursements.

If the health care professionals prove the are meaningfully using electronic medical records, they are eligible for up to $46,000 in reimbursement funds. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities could receive millions of dollars from the federal government.

The final so called "meaningful use" rules state that reimbursement payments for Medicare providers may begin no sooner than October for eligible hospitals, and January 2011 for eligible health care professionals. The rules allow providers to begin EMR deployments in 2012, 2013 or 2014, and then two full years to fully implement Stage 1 standards.

Health care providers only need to record 90 days of EMR information to report to the CMS to qualify for reimbursement payment, instead of the full year cited in the preliminary rules.

The survey also found that many CIO's are still unsure about how the federal program will operate. The IT executives indicated they are still finding out about the nuances of the "meaningful use" reimbursement program.

"CIOs are still early in the discovery process. We don't yet have a complete understanding of the certification process and its impact on providers," said Pamela McNutt, CIO of Methodist Health System in Dallas, and chair of CHIME's Policy Steering Committee, in a statement. "The reality of what it will take to qualify for stimulus funding won't be fully known until our vendors have obtained certification ," she added.

CHIME said it will submit a list of questions to federal officials requesting clarification on key questions raised by survey respondents.

The CIOs optimism about qualifying for reimbursement funds varied depending on the their type of healthcare organization and its size. For example, 38% of CIOs from academic medical centers expect to qualify for stimulus funding within the first six months, compared with only 22% of CIOs at community hospitals. In general, executives of larger organizations indicated they are more likely to qualify for funding within six months, compared those in smaller facilities.

Only two-thirds of respondents from hospitals with 100 to 199 beds say they expect to get funding within the first two fiscal years that the Stage 1 criteria are in effect. By contrast, nearly all respondents from facilities with 600 to 999 beds expect to qualify for stimulus funding within the first two years of the program.