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Meaningful Use Compliance Could Be Harder Than You Realize

Two recent surveys indicate healthcare providers are confident they'll comply with the government's meaningful use regs, but some CIOs say that's more challenging than you think.

Are healthcare providers exhibiting positive thinking that's based in reality, or are they so far out of touch that they don't realize their "meaningful" intentions for implementing electronic healthcare records might not pan out?

Here's why I ask: Recent research surveys indicate that providers are quite confident they'll be able to meet the federal meaningful use requirements for EHR systems, but testimony by several CIOs last week highlighted how difficult compliance really is.

A survey commissioned by the Office of National Coordinator for Health IT and conducted by the American Hospital Association finds that a vast majority of hospitals (81%) plan to achieve meaningful use and apply for the federal financial incentives. Two thirds of the hospitals plan to enroll in the government's incentive program during Stage 1, before Oct. 1, 2012.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics finds that 41% of office-based physicians plan to achieve meaningful use and take advantage of the incentive program. About a third of all doctor offices plan to enroll in the program during Stage 1.

Those numbers were encouraging, said Dr. David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health IT, in an open message to healthcare industry stakeholders last week. "We are gratified that such sizeable percentages of physicians and hospitals intend to take the plunge -- and to take the plunge sooner rather than later," Blumentahl said.

No one doubts that healthcare providers intend to participate in the meaningful use incentive programs, but it's still likely many aren't fully aware of -- or aren't willing to publicly acknowledge -- all the work that must be done for compliance. It's not going to be quick or easy even for the most tech-savvy organizations.

Five CIOs confirmed this last week in testimony before the Implementation Workgroup, a subgroup of the HIT Standards Committee, which is an advisory panel that reports to Blumenthal. All five are members of the members of the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME).

Meeting all requirements necessary to demonstrate meaningful use of EHRs will be thorny for many hospitals, said Joanne Sunquist, CIO at Hennepin County Medical Center, a 440-bed teaching hospital in Minneapolis, Minn. Creating the reports needed to show the hospital is meeting meaningful use objectives has become "an onerous, difficult, and time-consuming process," she said.

This is in spite of the fact that Hennipin is working closely with a certified vendor who has provided certified reports, she said. Sunquist is concerned that the difficulties will result in significant delays, "while not inherently adding value to the overall intent of meaningful use."

These difficulties aren't news to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), which has been working closely with industry stakeholders from the time Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was signed into law last year. It was feedback from the healthcare organizations during the rulemaking process that got the original "all or nothing" approach to complying with a long list of proposed requirements pared down to a more manageable menu approach.

In fact, the revised list of criteria could be a key reason for healthcare providers' (possibly false) confidence that they'll be able to meet Stage 1 meaningful use requirements in time to qualify for the financial incentives.

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