Meaningful Use, a program launched by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2011, was first created as part of the Electronic Health Record Incentive Program, to provide financial incentives to encourage physician and hospitals to use electronic health records (EHR) to improve patient care. Meaningful Use is made up of three stages of performance for use of electronic health records: Stage 1 focuses on data capturing and sharing; Stage 2 focuses on advanced clinical processes; and Stage 3 centers on improving outcomes. Each stage has progressively more complex objectives and quality measures, and the bar is raised higher and higher as providers and healthcare organizations move from one stage to the next. Financial incentives are linked to demonstrating ability to achieve the different stages.
In late August, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized a rule for Meaningful Use granting hospitals and health care providers more flexibility in how they meet requirements. We applaud CMS for understanding the complexity around health information exchange and for recognizing that not all in the medical community are at the same level. This ruling will likely have a positive effect for providers who have struggled to meet the strict EHR deadlines set by CMS.
There are a few specific changes CMS addressed in the Final Rule that we’re particularly glad to see:
Here at Atrius Health, we’ve been working to improve patient care through the use of EHRs for years. Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, our largest medical group, has used an EHR from Epic for more than 20 years, and the remaining Atrius Health groups fully transitioned to the Epic system by 2008. More than 80 percent of our physicians have demonstrated Meaningful Use Stage 1 and will move into Stage 2. We’re glad to see other doctors and medical groups being incentivized to adopt similar technologies to improve care.
What the future holds for Meaningful Use remains unclear. Enthusiasm for the program has certainly started to wane throughout the medical community. The deadlines are difficult to meet; the requirements are cumbersome. While we strongly support the intent of Meaningful Use, there are certainly changes that could make the program even stronger. Simply raising the bar on technology rather than measuring and demonstrating how it improves patient outcomes may actually reduce the success of Meaningful Use.
We will continue to work with the Congress and CMS to voice our concerns and recommend changes to ensure the program’s sustainability. As with all good policy, the Meaningful Use program will require changes as we learn what works and what does not. We encourage the federal government to continue to improve the program so that medical providers are utilizing electronic medical records in a way that truly improves patient care.