The 5 Things You Need to Know about Meaningful Use

November 7, 2010

As many of you already know, Meaningful Use is the buzzword being applied by Feds in conjunction with EHR stimulus package; a package that is slated to pay providers that adopt EHRs anywhere from $44,000 to $63,750 over five years. The heart of the legislation is Meaningful Use, which stipulates that it is not enough to simply buy an EHR; you must use the EHR in very specific way. In my humble opinion, this is a truly unique opportunity, offering a very generous subsidy to help practices offset the expense of an EHR. Here is some of what you need to know.

As many of you already know, Meaningful Use is the buzzword being applied by the Feds in conjunction with the EHR stimulus package; a package that is slated to pay providers that adopt EHRs anywhere from $44,000 to $63,750 over five years. The heart of the legislation is Meaningful Use, which stipulates that it is not enough to simply buy an EHR; you must use the EHR in a very specific way. In my humble opinion, this is a truly unique opportunity, offering a very generous subsidy to help practices offset the expense of an EHR. Here is some of what you need to know.

1. The government has an agenda; the EHR incentives are part of a broader goal of digitizing American healthcare. The end game is greater portability of medical information between providers, and between providers and patients and increased focus on quality and outcomes. You can’t achieve these goals unless everyone is wired and patient data is digitized and structured.

2. The details are important; the current Meaningful Use requirements consist of 15 “core” requirements (which you have to do) and a list of 10 “menu” items from which you need to select 5. Example of a “core” requirement: Record smoking status for patients 13 years or older. This is a pass/fail process-you must meet all criteria to qualify for the incentive funds. The New England Journal of Medicine has a nice summary of the requirements. It’s at http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMp1006114.

3. This is the beginning of a three-act play; Meaningful Use has three stages that represent progressively more challenging criteria. So far, only Stage 1 rules have been defined (they are pretty reasonable). The basic idea is to help practices build their EHR sophistication over time.

4. If you already have an EHR you will likely need to upgrade (or change) to a version that allows you to meet the Meaningful Use guidelines. The EHR vendors not only will need to add features so that you can comply but they will also need to be formally certified by the government. Since the certification process has just gotten started, most vendors are scrambling to comply with new certified, Meaningful Use versions of their software. For Meaningful Use certified vendors see the following link: http://onc-chpl.force.com/ehrcert.

5. Help is available; the government has very wisely invested in the funding of local organizations called regional extension centers (RECs) to help primary care practices get ready for EHRs, select a vendor, and achieve Meaningful Use. In most instances, the services offered are at no cost or pretty inexpensive. For regional extension centers in your area, see the following link: http://healthit.hhs.gov/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=1495&mode=2&cached=true.

Bruce Kleaveland is a paid correspondent through Intel’s sponsorship with Physicians Practice.