Getting Clear on “Meaningful Use”

If hospitals meet the meaningful use requirements of The HITECH Act, they will receive payments estimated to range from $9.7 billion to $27.4 billion (over eight years). The goal of the bill is to help offset EHR technology startup costs that can begin at $2 million (based on a 200 bed facility). Payments will start as early as May 2011, so understanding and delivering on meaningful use is time sensitive. With so much at stake, users have asked CMS to expand on the definition of meaningful use.

I asked Farrokh Alemi, PhD, professor of Health Systems Administration, Georgetown University, College of Nursing and Health Studies, in Washington DC and a well-published, peer-reviewed author on healthcare quality and IT, about the impact of meaningful use. Alemi said, The adoption of Healthcare IT is just part of the process. To take full advantage of the technology, it will also require changes in delivery of healthcare and business processes. Despite overwhelming evidence that computer services can significantly reduce the costs of care, healthcare organizations have not fully adopted the changes. This direction will promote a full buy-in among physicians, administrators, clinicians, and payors.

The original interim final rule defined meaningful use as the use of certified EHR technology in a manner that improves quality, safety, and efficiency of health care delivery, reduces health care disparities, engages patients and families, improves care coordination, improves population and public health, and ensures adequate privacy and security protections for personal health information. Frankly, this broad of a definition could mean just about anything, which is why many hospitals have asked for more detail.

This summer The New England Journal of Medicine simplified the updated version of the final rule; the document listed the 29 core objectives and the measurement requirements. What I found interesting was that along with the documentation of vital signs, diagnosis, and medications, the data must be transmittable between providers. Considering the complexity of technology and the multiple vendors providing EHR services. this may not be as easy as it appears.

So, several must ask questions have emerged. Ask your EHR vendor questions such as: Who and what systems can you connect with and what’s it going to cost? It’s important to get these questions clarified since the systems are going to be worth millions over the next couple of years.

James Laskaris, EE, BME
James Laskaris, EE, BME, Clinical Analyst — Mr. James Laskaris is a senior emerging technology analyst at MD Buyline and has been with the company since 1994. With over 30 years of experience in the healthcare field, Mr. Laskaris is the primary analyst of high-end OR technology. He also covers issues related to the legislative and reimbursement effect on healthcare and authors a bimonthly “Issues that Matter” publication. Mr. Laskaris received his biomedical engineering degree from Southern Illinois University. His work has been published in hfm Magazine, Radiology Manager and Healthcare Purchasing News.