Trending Topic — Meaningful Use
Technology is at the center of what keeps us all connected and communicating no matter where we are, and its use in health care is especially important. Transferring patient records, sharing test results, and communicating a plan of care between medical providers has traditionally been tackled by phone, fax, or email, but the U.S. government is working to change that by supporting hospitals, doctors, and clinics in the adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHRs).1
Over the course of several stages, the government will distribute incentive payments to providers to spur the implementation of EHR systems — a process that can take many months or even years to complete — and is known as meaningful use.
What Is Meaningful Use?
Meaningful use is a set of standards developed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that focuses on paying providers for achieving set criteria related to the meaningful use of technology to improve patient care. The overall goal of implementing EHRs is to reduce health disparities, engage patients and families, and improve communication for better coordination of care.
Meaningful use is set for implementation in three stages over a five-year time frame. Stage one ended in 2012 and focused on capturing data in a consistent format, analyzing health trends, and using information to better engage patients and families. Stage two, which ends in 2014, emphasizes advanced sharing such as e-prescribing and the electronic exchange of patient care summaries between providers. Stage three will focus on improved outcomes and providing patients with access to self-management tools and more. Meaningful use incentive payments will end in 2016 after stage three is completed.2
Providers who adopt EHRs and can meet meaningful use criteria can earn over $80,000 in incentive payments if they treat both Medicare and Medicaid patients.3 Payment plans and incentive amounts vary by state, so providers should contact their state’s CMS program for details. Providers who do not adopt an EHR by 2014 and continue to treat Medicare patients can expect a 5 percent decrease in reimbursements.
How Will Meaningful Use Affect Your Job in Health Care?
From doctors to nurses and everyone in between, meaningful use is sure to change the way you document medical information. In order to meet the detailed criteria developed by CMS, thorough charting and documentation is essential for everyone involved in patient care. Health care providers should be flexible during this transition time and make sure they are answering all patient information accurately and completely.
Meaningful use will also affect how providers approach and treat patients, including:
- Providers will have a better view of what’s missing. The EHR’s interface can offer providers better information about tests, screening tools, or treatments that may have been missed. EHRs can reveal lapses in testing or preventive screenings and alert the provider, so that necessary treatments are not overlooked.
- More hands-on patients. Through patient portals and other online tools, patients will have digital access to their own records, lab results, and medication lists. This means patients will take a more informed and leading role in their plan of care.4
- More collaboration between providers. The ultimate goal of EHR use is to provide one, real-time, current picture of a patient’s health that can be viewed between providers, hospitals, and clinics across the U.S.5 Having this current information on hand makes it easier for doctors to compare treatments and decide what will work best for a particular patient.
Challenges and Benefits of Meaningful Use
Meaningful use feels like a daunting task for some providers as they work diligently to meet government demands on a tight timetable and still provide quality care. Despite the challenges presented by meaningful use, its overall goal is clear: to provide consistent, quality health care to men, women, and children across the United States and do it in a way that allows the patient to be a part of the team. Better communication leads to better health outcomes, and meaningful use is just one part of reaching that goal.