Meaningful Use – Not an IT Project

The Obama administration introduced the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act with EMR as its cornerstone. Billions of dollars were reserved as funds for the stimulus plan to reward physicians on effective utilization of digital health information with up to $63,750 in incentives. CMS has already paid out nearly 3 million in incentive payments to physicians who successfully attested for meaningful use in 2011.

The two incentive schemes fall under Medicare and Medicaid, federal and state run insurance programs respectively. Physicians that attested for meaningful use stage 1, had to complete 15 core and 5 menu objectives. The objectives for the first stage targeted effective data capturing and sharing. While many physicians successfully attested and received their incentives, a number of physicians struggled with some of the changes brought by the new EMR technology.

The reason CMS is promoting EMR adoption is not just for the sake of healthcare automation, but the whole incentive program is designed to drive appropriate usage and desirable outcomes to improve healthcare quality and productivity. The US is spending over $2 trillion each year on healthcare with mostly unsatisfactory results. The government believes that the increasing healthcare costs are not only burdening civilian families but are also detrimental to the economy.

EMR is just the first step towards the advancement of healthcare in the US. By streamlining operations and increasing accountability, EMR aims to forge a new culture of care delivery. While we are aware of some of the advantages in the form of a paperless environment, reduced clinical errors, increased efficiency, reduced cost and improved quality, the actual value of an EMR resides in its ability to compile data producing analytical reports, and its capability to interface with other healthcare entities for exchanging vital information, thereby establishing a chain of effective care delivery.

The meaningful use stage 2 builds on the requirements of the first stage. Instead of demonstrating interoperability, physicians would be required to utilize these features and explore detailed functionality of the EMR. The increased focus on connectivity and information exchange is to promote preventive care measures, rather than just improving disease management.

While we await the final rule for the next stage, it is seemingly apparent that the CMS meaningful use program is not just an embellished IT project but a meticulously structured healthcare transformational program.



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