Meeting the Challenge of “Meaningful Use”

April 8, 2010

The road to electronic health records is filled with good intentions. However, every EHR vendor claims they have a certified product. Here are some steps that you can take to protect your EHR investment.

The road to electronic health records - and access to the incentive money promised as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 - is filled with good intentions. It seems every purveyor of EHR software claims they have a certified product, but the final certification process, yet to be finalized by the government, remains unclear. And that’s just the first hurdle.

The second hurdle entails enabling your practice to leap the 25 proposed “meaningful use” objectives and measures. Most, if not all, EHR products are at present unable to deliver on all 25 criteria. In order to be eligible for the incentive payments, physicians are required to use a certified EHR and prove they have met the meaningful use criteria; it’s not an “either or” option. The government is expected to issue final rules on both the meaningful use requirements and the certification process later this year.

In the meantime, here are some steps that you can take to protect your present and/or potential EHR investment:

Know your baseline. If you have EHR, assess the progress of your EHR vendor’s preparations. Go to www.cchit.org to see if your vendor has been certified by the Certification Commission on Health Information Technology. Though CCHIT has not been designated as the certification body by Medicare, their standards are very similar to those the federal government is expected to adopt, and CCHIT is expected to be one of the designated certifying bodies.

Contact your vendor. Next, ask your vendor to provide, in writing, their present capabilities with regard to the 25 meaningful use standards and a written timetable for full compliance. It is reasonable to share your expectations and deadlines with them. Further, why not get other practices using the same EHR to cosign your letter? If you have service/maintenance renewals due, add contract language that confirms the vendor’s obligation to meet meaningful use deadlines.

Savvy shopping. There’s no need to go down every aisle of the EHR grocery store. Make it clear to potential suitors that the only vendors who will make your initial cut are those who guarantee in writing that their product will be certified and have full meaningful use capabilities by “x” date. Make sure this guarantee has teeth in the event a vendor fails to deliver. Consider including a penalty clause in the contract should the vendor not become certified or not enable you to become a meaningful user.

Yes, you are asking vendors to hit a moving target. This might seem unfair, but given the financial ramifications of both your EHR investment and the potential stimulus dollars for your practice, it is essential.

Network with your colleagues. Talk to other practices that are using the EHRs you are considering. Since some meaningful use standards necessitate interfaces with other systems (hospitals, Medicare, etc.), ask how these interfaces are working for them. Ask what steps their vendor has taken to prepare for meaningful use certification. And be sure to ask how well the vendor delivers on its promises in a timely manner. The answers to these questions can help shape your decision.

Achieving meaningful use and qualifying for the incentives may be important, but it is best to view the incentive payments as merely “sweeteners.” Even more important is selecting, customizing, and implementing a system that best meets the clinical and administrative needs of your practice. Like other federal mandates and initiatives, EHR certification and meaningful use will be slow to develop. However, by following the above guidelines, you doing what you can now to protect your investment in the future.

Lucien W. Roberts, III, MHA, FACMPE, is vice president of marketing and business development for Seredor Corporation. He also consults with medical groups and health systems in areas such as compliance, physician compensation, negotiation, strategic planning, and billing/collections. He may be reached at lucien.roberts@yahoo.com.