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Health IT

Meaningful Use: Is it Meaningful?

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I am an idealist. I believe in a world where access to healthcare is a human right, regardless of one’s socioeconomic status or geographical location. I also believe that electronic medical records are instrumental in improving the quality of patient care, and ultimately, in improving population health. Naturally, one would think that Meaningful Use resonates with the marrow of my idealistic framework. And quite frankly, the concept of Meaningful Use does.

The core objectives of Meaningful Use include improving quality, safety and efficiency; engaging patients and families; improving care coordination; improving public and population health; and ensuring privacy and security for personal health information. The spirit of Meaningful Use is intended to improve care through electronic medical record (EMR) adoption and an integrated system of checks and balances.

In direct contrast with my idealistic view of Meaningful Use, and perhaps the intent of the requirement, is our current reality in healthcare IT. In order to meet Stage 1 Meaningful Use objectives and begin work on Stage 2 objectives, we are forced to act quickly. In many instances, this translates to acting irrationally, or perhaps without a meaningful plan, to qualify for monetary incentives and avoid penalties.

Through my work at The Breakaway Group, I have encountered a broad spectrum of strategies to meet Meaningful Use objectives. Clients who adopted certified electronic health record technology three to five years ago are now collecting incentives and strategically planning for the next stage of Meaningful Use. Others, such as smaller physician practices and larger Integrated Delivery Networks are making heroic efforts to adopt the technology to capture incentives and avoid penalties. The key is to apply a proven methodology for EMR adoption to help all types of organizations meet the requirements for Meaningful Use. Also, simply selecting the right software is critical not only to achieving Meaningful Use objectives, but to building the foundation for true EMR adoption.

Here are a few recommendations to ensure your organization is moving forward in a “meaningful” way.

  1. Where is my money? Education and communication about Meaningful Use must come from leadership at the top, and disseminate to providers and support staff on the front lines of patient support. Transparent and consistent communication is vital to leading EMR adoption.
  1. Did I pick the right technology? In 2013, if your system does not meet the requirements for capturing meaningful information, it is time to adopt one that does. This may seem obvious, but if your system does not meet Meaningful Use requirements, it’s time for an upgrade or a new system.
  1. Does one size fit all? Not all Meaningful Use requirements apply to every type of practice. Sifting through details to determine what impacts your organization takes time. If you are reading this blog, you are probably already well-informed. For example, many of the stroke requirements in Meaningful Use Stage 2 do not apply to critical access hospitals and smaller physician practices. Although the recommendations can improve clinical outcomes and ultimately saves lives, many stroke patients are transferred directly from small units to major trauma centers.  The final rule allows for some flexibility in selecting the menu objectives that apply, but it takes time to read and digest each set of new requirements. Give yourself and your organization time to digest this information. 
  1. Does my EMR education appear sponsored by Meaningful Use? Less is more. The goal of EMR education is to build proficiency – not highlight all the fields that comply with Meaningful Use. Referencing Meaningful Use in EMR education is a great way to reinforce why you are implementing a new system, but it can distract learners. If your education is starting to look like a NASCAR sponsorship with Meaningful Use logos, it’s time to reassess your education strategy. Present education in short, digestible segments, and referencing Meaningful Use in a manner that does not divert learners.


Carrie Paykoc is lead instructional designer at The Breakaway Group, a Xerox Company.