In the three years since the first providers began attesting, meaningful use has already started benefiting patients.
Though there are many advantages to the implementation of EHRs, the bottom line is, and always has been, to provide better healthcare to patients. "The plan was that the money would be used in a way that will have a good outcome for patients," said Robert Wah, president of the American Medical Association, speaking of the original intention of the incentive program.
While it is still a little early to have strong data on the effects of the EHR Incentive Program itself, some of the early news about meaningful use and the adoption of EHRs in general is quite promising:
• According to evidence from several studies reviewed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, computerized physician order entry has been shown to reduce preventable adverse drug events and medical errors - in some studies by as much as 50 percent.
• Using data gleaned from EHRs, researchers at UC Davis have developed an algorithm that uses blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature, and white blood cell count to predict the onset of sepsis.
• A study of the use of an outpatient EHR system across 17 medical centers found that the use of the systems significantly improved patient outcomes, including improved glycemic and lipid control.
"The electronic health record has been a transformative development for the delivery of healthcare," said Ilias Tagkopoulos, assistant professor of computer science at University of California Davis and author of the study on sepsis prediction. Though these large population-wide improvements are of great benefit to patients, efforts toward implementing meaningful use of EHRs also provides patients with benefits that are closer to home.
EHRs make it easy for patients to see their own medical records and coordinate care between multiple providers. Patient portals make it easy for patients to check for missing or inaccurate information in their medical records. The portals also make the once time-consuming and occasionally frustrating processes of scheduling medical appointments and ordering prescription refills a matter of a few clicks of the mouse.
These last advantages may seem small compared to the often complex requirements of meaningful use, but in the end will contribute to an improved doctor-patient relationship, and therefore to improved care.
"Better clinical decision making requires better information and this is greatly helped when patients are involved in their own care," said Wah.