What is meaningful use and what does it mean for your practice?

What is meaningful use and what does it mean for your practice?

Meaningful use is a concept mentioned in a lot of literature surrounding the implementation of electronic health record software. On its own, it might seem like a vague term, but there are real, quantifiable ways define it. In fact, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has a multi-step plan to rollout meaningful use milestones across the health care industry. Whether your practice is looking to upgrade its EHR software, or you're just beginning to consider the concept at all, here's what you need to know about what meaningful use means in 2016.

Three stages
CMS laid out a three-step, five-year plan for implementing meaningful use throughout the health care industry. Stage one began in 2011 and focused on data capture and sharing. According to CMS, participants of that stage were required to move 80 percent of their patients to a certified EHR software system. Additionally, the practices were required to meet certain specifications. A few of these included e-prescribing, drug-allergy interaction checks, providing electronic copies of health records, active medication lists and tracking chart changes, among others. Additionally, all of this information was required to be protected, as per the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Stage two of meaningful use began in 2014 and focused on advanced clinical processes. Some objectives included using online messaging programs to communicate with patients about their health information, automatically track medications, provide patients with the ability to download their information and allow patients to transmit their data within 36 hours after discharge.

Stage three got underway at the beginning of 2016 and is expected to extend into 2017. The overall objective of this stage is to improve patient outcomes. That will mean, at least in part, consolidating the objectives of the previous two stages and simplifying them to make them easier to implement across the industry. According to HealthIT, a site maintained by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, a specific key objective of this stage is to locate gaps in functionality and seek to improve them without merely relying on the market to do so. In other words, some regulation will be put into place to fill in the areas that the free market does not naturally provide for.

Meaningful use in small practices
In small practices, the concept of meaningful use is best exemplified by their ability to adopt new EHR software and train their employees to use it effectively. EHR systems are designed to be easy to use – those that are not would simply be driven out of the market – so it becomes a matter switching from a paper system to an electronic one. For many practices, this might mean hiring temporary help to move data from the old system to the new. It's a time consuming task, but once accomplished will have long-lasting, positive benefits for staff and patients alike. From there, EHR vendors and health care providers can work together to implement changes to further the long-reaching goals of meaningful use. The end result will be a better, streamlined experience for patients, and a secure, easy-to-use system for providers.