Don't Get Too Hung Up on 'Meaningful Use' in an EHR

Scott Irwin


June 16, 2011


There's been so much attention and focus lately on meaningful use that some physicians are overlooking a vital fact: Meaningful use is only a starting point in healthcare reform -- not the endgame. The electronic health record (EHR) system that you select must be able to meet broader goals as well. Be wary of getting too caught up in individual objectives. Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees. In this case, the "forest" is the overall quality of healthcare.

Lawmakers have coined the term "meaningful use" to describe ways in which EHRs can be used to measure, report, and exchange health information. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act offers Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to those who use certified EHR technology to achieve meaningful use objectives.

Currently, 25 objectives have been defined including the following goals: employing electronic prescribing, using computerized provider order entry (CPOE), and maintaining active electronic medication allergy lists. These are all part of Stage 1 of meaningful use.

You're not expected to use EHRs in a meaningful way all at once. In fact, objectives are being set in 3 distinct stages between now and 2015. Stage 1 primarily begins to standardize the electronic capture and use of health information. Physicians must meet at least 20 of the 25 current objectives to earn Stage 1 incentive money.

Stage 2 criteria are expected to be released by the end of 2011 and take effect by 2013. They will further underscore the concept of using standardized formats and fields to foster the exchange of data and will gradually solidify support for Stage 3. That's when more population-based health goals are expected to come to the forefront. In theory, by the time we reach Stage 3, we should be using electronic tools to enhance clinical decision-making, improve patient self-management, and encourage "wellness" activities.

Certain government websites offer more information about meaningful use.


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