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Discovering the Meaning of Meaningful Use

Whenever the topic of electronic health records (EHRs) comes up, someone inevitably mentions Meaningful Use. This term describes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) program that offers incentives for effectively using EHRs. The purpose of the program is to ensure healthcare providers don’t just own EHRs but actually use them to improve the care provided to patients.

A Snapshot of the Program: Stage 1 Requirements

Eligible providers demonstrate Meaningful Use by meeting specific CMS-identified objectives and achieving defined benchmarks. Meaningful Use has three different stages of requirements. Stage one requires providers to meet mandatory 15 core objectives and 5 out of 10 menu objectives, with at least one menu objective being a public health objective. The menu objectives a provider chooses will depend on what makes sense for his or her workflow and practice. Eligible providers also have to submit 6 clinical quality measures (CQM). There are no minimum values required for CQMs, a provider’s EHR merely submits them.

For the first year a provider participates in Meaningful Use, he or she has to meet the requirements and report data on a continuous basis for 90 days. Each subsequent year, the provider must report data for the entire year.

Enrolling in the Program

To qualify for Meaningful Use incentives, providers need to enroll in either the Medicare or Medicaid incentive program and have an EHR that is certified by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. While the Medicare and Medicaid programs are similar, there are some key differences. For example, the Medicare program is run by CMS and provides incentives up to $44,000 over 5 years. A provider does not have to have any Medicare patients in order to qualify for the program.

The Medicaid program is run by the states and provides up to $63,750 across six years. Eligible providers must have at least 30% of their patients on Medicaid, and this number drops to 20% for pediatricians. It’s also important to note that the amount of potential incentive money for either program depends on when a provider starts participating.

If you are looking to get involved with Meaningful Use, you should begin by educating yourself and your staff on the requirements, incentives and workload changes associated with the program. CMS offers a helpful resource to help educate your staff on the changes.

You should also think about which incentive option—Medicare or Medicaid—is most appropriate for you, keeping in mind the different requirements outlined above. Finally, consider partnering with a regional extension center (REC) to learn about best practices for EHR implementation and use. These organizations can help you select the most appropriate certified vendor and ensure your Meaningful Use efforts yield the maximum benefit.