Meaningful Use – What is the meaning?

If you talk to anyone who is involved in the EMR industry, one of the biggest points of discussion is what is known as “Meaningful Use of EMR/EHR”. What begun as a well-intentioned effort to establish universal standards for EHR  systems has moved into a political jockeying by both corporations and “consumer watchdogs”.

A key piece of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on February 10, 2010, directly relates to the medical community and further has financial repercussions for individual medical practices.  Per the terms of the ARRA, physicians will be incentivized for the full implementation of an electronic medical records (EMR) system.  However, the stipulation that the federal government has assigned to this program as it relates to financial incentives is that the EMR system must demonstrate “Meaningful Use”.

The average physician may consider Meaningful Use to mean:

  • Easy to use
  • Reasonably priced
  • Creates a better work flow
  • Allows the physician to see more patients in a workday
  • Increased revenue for the practice

However, when it comes to the criteria that the government has opted to implement the verbiage and requirements differ from this vision. At the same time, the federal guidelines may very well result in a more streamlined and profitable medical practice.  In fact, the true criteria for EMR Meaningful Use is rather extensive and expansive.

To further motivate medical practices to fully implement EMR, the government is offering up to $44,000 in monetary incentive. This piece of the ARRA is referred to as HITECH or Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act.  These funds are available only to those offices that meet the benchmarks as outlined above.

Additionally, the $44,000 incentive is per physician and not per medical practice. Thus, for a practice that has four physicians the total HITECH incentive amount would be $176,000. This is a significant amount of money for any practice and should be a true motivator to implement the EMR system soon.

While this may seem to be an overwhelming task, most of the very reputable EMR software providers have the staffing and expertise to make certain that the individual medical practice receives the full amount of incentive funding available from the federal government.

Further, those offices that fail to fully implement EMR and demonstrate Meaningful Use will soon see a slow and steady reduction in their Medicare payments.  In fact, for those offices that do not implement EMR as of 2015 they will see a 1% reduction in Medicare payments. For those who still do not have a system in place as of 2017, the reduction will then be 2%.

The deadline for practices to implement their EMR in order to qualify for the aforementioned financial incentive of $44,000 is 2012. Therefore, for those offices that have been sluggish in getting this off the ground, there truly is no time to waste.

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