Meaningful Use: EHR Vendors Still Have Work to Do

Are health IT vendors ready to supply the marketplace with products enabled to meet the government's requirements for meaningful use of EHRs?

Are health IT vendors ready to supply the marketplace with products enabled to meet the government's requirements for meaningful use of EHRs?

Yes and no, according to the chief information officers of two large American hospitals, speaking Monday at the HIMSS 2011 annual convention in Orlando.

"We should recognize the enormous challenge that the vendor community was given for meaningful use readiness especially in terms of the timeline," said Daniel Nigrin, senior vice president and CIO at Children's Hospital in Boston.

Fewer than four months lapsed between the time the government issued its final rules for meaningful use adoption and the time that that the first vendors began receiving certification of their products. Given that narrow time frame, Nigrin says he's been "pretty impressed with the vendors."

Still, the vendors have much work to do, said C. Martin Harris, chairman of HIMSS's board of directors and the CIO of the Cleveland Clinic. Even those that have done enough within the letter of the meaningful use rules to get their products certified, Harris argued, need to do more to comply with the "spirit" of meaningful use. For that to happen, Harris said, products have to become more intuitive and easy to use.

Harris and Nigrin were among the speakers during a first-day press briefing at HIMSS 2011, the largest gathering of health IT vendors and health IT professionals in the country. This year's event, to conclude Thursday, is expected to draw at least 31,000 attendees, according to HIMSS President H. Stephen Lieber.

HIMSS officials offered the results of their annual survey of IT leaders of hospitals and health systems. Among the findings: Only about 45 percent of hospitals think it is likely that they will meet the first stage of the meaningful use requirements this year, the first for which federal stimulus dollars can be collected by healthcare providers that do meet the requirements.

One in four of the more than 300 respondents to HIMSS's survey listed meaningful use achievement as a "key business objective," and half cited it as their top IT priority over the next two years. The biggest barriers to getting there: The lack of access to the data they need to prove that they are indeed meaningfully using EHR technology in the way the government is asking, and low adoption of EHR by physicians and other end users.

Other findings:
• 68 percent of hospitals plan to spend money this year to get themselves compliant with meaningful use, and about the same number expect to hire more IT staffers.
• 76 percent expect that their IT operating budgets will definitely or probably increase this year.
• 53 percent of hospitals say they have an EHR "fully operational" in at least one facility. About half of that group says it has EHR fully deployed organization-wide.

Bob Keaveney is editorial director of Physicians Practice. He can be reached at out the rest of our HIMSS 2011 coverage here.