Meaningful Use 101
What is Meaningful Use?
Meaningful use of health information technology is an umbrella term for rules and regulations that hospitals and physicians must meet to qualify for federal incentive funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). ARRA authorizes the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide reimbursement incentives for eligible professionals and hospitals that meet meaningful use criteria along the road to becoming "meaningful users" of certified electronic health record (EHR) technology. This includes using an EHR for functions that both improve and demonstrate the quality of care, such as e-prescribing, electronic exchange of health information, and submission of quality measures to CMS.
What are the goals of meaningful use?
Meaningful use sets goals that are about healthcare, not about information technology. The overall goals of meaningful use are to use EHR technology to:
- Improve quality, safety, and efficiency of patient care
- Engage patients and families
- Improve care coordination
- Ensure adequate privacy and security for personal health information
- Improve population and public health
What qualifies as an electronic health record?
To participate in the incentive program, you must have a complete EHR or a combination of EHR modules that:
- Meets the meaningful use criteria of a "qualified EHR"
- Has been tested and certified in accordance with the certification criteria established by ONC
A qualified EHR is an electronic record of health-related information on an individual that includes patient demographic and clinical health information – such as medical history and problem lists. It must have the capacity to provide clinical decision support, enable physician order entry, capture and query information relevant to healthcare quality, and exchange and integrate electronic health information from other sources. Modules on Medicity's iNexx platform have received the federal government's stamp of approval for meaningful use criteria covering all general and ambulatory criteria along with numerous ambulatory clinical quality criteria required for certification. For more information on how Medicity can help you meet EHR requirements without interrupting your work flow click here.
Who can receive incentive payments, how much, and when?
Eligible Hospitals (EH)
Eligible hospitals can receive up to four years of financial incentive payments under Medicare beginning in 2011 and up to six years of incentive payments under Medicaid. Hospitals must increase use of comprehensive EHR systems from 10% in 2009 to 55% by 2014. Doing so yields substantial incentive payments – a typical 275-bed hospital would be eligible for approximately $6 million.
Determine if your hospital is eligible.
Eligible Professionals (EP)
Eligible physicians and other providers are encouraged to register as soon as possible to receive incentive payments for meeting meaningful use criteria. You don't have to have your EHR in place to register. The EP incentive payments range from up to $44,000 over five years under Medicare or $63,750 over six years under Medicaid. Physicians can apply for either/or – not both. Hospital-based physicians and those in practices owned by a hospital are not eligible. Waiting to adopt an EHR has a price – incentive payments are gradually reduced each year, stopping entirely in 2016. To determine if you are an eligible professional, use this convenient flow chart (PDF).
What do I have to do with an EHR to be a “meaningful user”?
The process is intended to help providers use a step-by-step approach to adopting and effectively using electronic records and data exchange to improve patient care and lower costs. In 2011 and 2012, providers must meet a set of core objectives – aimed basically at getting started – as well as choose five activities from a menu of 10 additional, more challenging tasks. This is referred to as Stage 1. Stage 2 requirements are under development.
If you are already using an EHR within a health system or among affiliated hospitals, that won’t be sufficient to meet the requirements. You have to share information with different EHR systems.
- Learn more about Meaningful use criteria for hospitals (PDF).
- Learn more about Meaningful use criteria for eligible professionals (PDF).
Does that mean my EHR doesn’t have to be able to carry out all the Stage 1 functions?
No. While there is some flexibility in how fast clinicians must be able to perform certain tasks, ONC issued a statement on December 23, 2010, clarifying that EHR systems themselves must be certified against all criteria cited in Stage 1. The provider doesn’t have to implement every one of the functions, but the EHR must be capable of performing them.
How do I sign up?
You can register online on the CMS website. Note: you can register before you have a certified EHR.
Need help? Each state has one or more Regional Extension Centers (RECs) assigned to assist physicians in understanding meaningful use criteria and selecting certified EHR technology.