Meaningful Use Attestation 'Needs to Be a Team Effort,' Says Physician

After months of preparation, family physician Douglas Foreman was one of thousands of physicians to go online today and make his case to CMS that he was in fact achieving "meaningful use" of his EHR.

After months of preparation, family physician Douglas Foreman was one of thousands of physicians to go online today and make his case to CMS that he was in fact achieving "meaningful use" of his EHR.

While Medicaid incentive checks began arriving at practices earlier this year, CMS opened its attestation phase for Medicare payments today (April 18) for physicians and hospitals to prove that they have met the core and additional requirements of Stage One meaningful use. Doing so can result in federal reimbursements of $18,000 this year and up to $44,000 over a five-year period under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The overall goal is to get physicians and hospitals to use EHRs to better track their patients' care.

To help you prepare for the 15 core requirements under meaningful use, Physicians Practice has put together our "Meaningful Use Stage 1 Crib Sheet," so you can cut through CMS' language and get to the heart of how to be a top-notch EHR user and receive federal incentives. CMS also offers a "Meaningful Use Attestation Calculator," a good next destination where you can test your data before submitting it to the federal government for final review.

Foreman, whose practice is based in Warwick, R.I., called the attestation process "relatively easy," already assured that he was successfully meeting all 15 "core" meaningful use requirements and at least five additional requirements meet federal standards. His practice actually met seven of the 10 requirements, more than needed under CMS' rules.

"This needs to be a team effort," Foreman told Physicians Practice shortly after completing CMS' online questionnaire to prove meaningful use. "Physicians will not be able to do this alone. Your staff has to be involved and assigned a role in the process."

In December 2010, Foreman said his practice - including an office manager and pair of medical assistants -did a test of the then-newly released meaningful use guidelines using the previous year's patient data. "It was not very good," he admits, acknowledging that he would not have qualified this year without changes.

"We got to work and met with staff on the core and additional measures and set up assignments for what everyone was responsible for," he said. "It is important to have your staff on-board to understand what needs to be done as a practice. For us, everyone had a part to play and a responsibility."

Another important team member, Foreman said, is your EHR vendor. He used Ingenix CareTracker EHR, which features a "meaningful use dashboard" to track numbers and monitor compliance with federal guidelines.

"Your vendor should have a support team," said Foreman. "They need to be familiar with the process and support you. Those doctors with older EHRs or without support will be wasting a lot of money."

As for the attestation process itself, Foreman said the online questionnaire was easy to use, going step-by-step through the core and additional requirements and letting you review all of your data on the very last screen before your submission to CMS for review.

This year, if attestation is complete, physicians can receive $18,000 for 2011-2012, with amounts decreasing per year through 2012. Each year a practice waits to meet meaningful use, the less federal incentive they receive and in 2015, they can actually lose money as the federal government begins to penalize those not on board with EHRs.

While pleased his federal incentives are on the way after months of hard work, Foreman says another outcome of meaningful use is much more important: better care for patients.

"The attestation process really helped improve patient care at my practice," Foreman said. "If you look at obesity - especially childhood obesity, smoking cessation, colorectal cancer, and other issues, you may think you are doing a good job in catching people behind on their screens, but you are not. With meaningful use, you have the numbers in front of you and can actually see how you are doing to improve care for those patients. It has made a difference in my practice for sure."