Meaningful Use Drives Agenda in Healthcare IT
by Rishi Bhalerao
July 12, 2011
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is pushing healthcare facilities throughout the country to update their electronic medical records (EMR) systems. Stipulations from the ARRA, and recent rulings from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), require that healthcare organizations show meaningful use of the technology they have implemented in order to receive the promised incentive payments. Learn how more efficient systems, processes, and decisions can help health care providers get the most out of their EMR systems to meet or exceed the criteria for meaningful use.
“Meaningful Use” criteria were recently announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the HITECH Act, which was created to improve healthcare quality, safety, and efficiency through the use of information technology.1 These criteria were put in place so that as healthcare providers implement new technologies – such as Electronic Medical Records systems – there is a standard for their efficiency and capability. As a result, a concentrated five-year national initiative to adopt and use electronic records in healthcare has begun.
Two regulations have been released, one of which defines the meaningful use objectives that providers must meet to qualify for significant financial incentives through Medicare and Medicaid, and the other identifies the technology standards and certification required, so that healthcare providers may be assured that their systems are capable of performing the required functions.
With EMR technology, healthcare providers and their patients will have more complete and accurate information, along with better access to that information. Studies on implementing EMR have shown benefits for patients in terms of increased safety, reduced medical errors and coordination of healthcare services from different providers. In addition, EMR will also save money for the healthcare industry in the long term since the electronic entry, transfer, and storage of electronic records is much more efficient and cost-effective than handling paper.
On July 13, 2010, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, announced the cost-saving and efficiency benefits the regulation will produce throughout the industry. “For years, health policy leaders on both sides of the aisle have urged adoption of electronic health records throughout our healthcare system to improve quality of care and ultimately lower costs. Today, with the leadership of the president and Congress, we are making that goal a reality,” she stated. Dr. David Bluementhal, the Director of the Institute for Health Policy, Massachusetts General Hospital for the ONCHIT added “Meaningful use of EHRs in 2011 will earn hospitals a one-time bonus payment of $2 million plus an add-on to the Medicare fee based on the diagnosis-related group (DRG).”2
Information management industry specialists know that the decision to implement an EMR system is only the first step in the process of meeting the meaningful use criteria. In order to make your system operate in a manner that improves patient outcomes, you need to figure out the workflows and processes to enable that system meet its potential, and maximize its adoption.
Most EMR systems provide the hardware and software to automate clinical functions, with the goal of a single, secure online patient record. But, additional processes such as scanning physical records and cleaning out databases are important to the successful implementation of electronic medical records systems.
“In hospitals today, managing patient records consists of an inefficient patchwork of systems, processes and decisions that have been made over many years,” said Ken Rubin, Iron Mountain’s vice president and general manager of healthcare. “If a hospital has poor processes for storing and managing hardcopy medical records, simply digitizing them will only add to the mess, not help solve it.”
Part of the modernization of electronic medical records includes processing the vast amounts of paperwork that comprise current health information systems. A smooth transition to EMR will require managing both paper and digital records in a hybrid environment while navigating the changeover to a fully digital workflow.
“Health systems that first streamline their paper storage and workflows for handling records not only establish the right framework for EMR, they can also find as much as one million dollars in savings to help fund their transition to electronic records,” Rubin added.
Recent studies on the current state of health information technology have exposed a growing need for improvement. PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a survey of 120 CIOs and healthcare IT executives before the final rule was set in place. This survey found eight in 10 respondents reported being “concerned” or “very concerned” they will not be able to demonstrate meaningful use by the 2015 deadline.
Furthermore, only half of the survey’s respondents claimed they will be prepared to meet the first set of meaningful use requirements in 2011. Although the final meaningful use ruling incorporated greater flexibility which may enable more of these CIOs to meet the criteria, the results of the survey highlight the common conflict CIOs are facing between working to create the most efficient information management systems and working to meet the government’s regulations.
Experts familiar with the survey explained the need for practical solutions for modernizing information management in the industry. Daniel Garrett, leader of the health information technology practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said “we found many healthcare providers are mired in the complexity of incentive-rule criteria and may not be working toward longer-term goals…”
“The bottom line is improved quality of care and patient safety, delivered more efficiently,” he added. “Government leaders and health organizations need to give consideration to the ultimate goal as they work to finalize and meet guidelines for meaningful use."
As healthcare CIOs work to update their records management to meet meaningful use criteria, they should consider the benefits of working with a trusted partner, such as Iron Mountain, in conjunction with their EMR system provider. By addressing the issues of existing paper-based systems, such as redundancy and inconsistency, the switch to electronic medical records can be accomplished faster, easier and less expensively. Although not necessarily mandated by the new meaningful use regulations, implementing more efficient information management processes is a best practice that can facilitate the conversion to EMR, and as a result will help healthcare providers achieve their goals of better patient outcomes.
- Health Information Technology website, http://healthit.hhs.gov/
- Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.P., David, “Stimulating the Adoption of Health Information Technology,”” The New England Journal of Medicine, Perspective, April 9, 2009 from: