Meaningful Use Compliance: A Piece Of Cake?

The feds have already paid out $653 million in incentives to clinicians who've implemented electronic health records. For some providers, the work wasn't so hard after all.
If you were hoping to cash in on HITECH Act's Meaningful Use (MU) stage 1 financial rewards for 2011, then you'd better be well on your way with attestation. To qualify in 2011, you need to report MU compliance for a consecutive 90-day period. But there are fewer than 90 days left until the end of the 2011 calendar year.

If you've missed the boat for reporting in 2011, don't fret. You also can meet MU stage 1 compliance and report for 90 days in 2012 to still qualify for the maximum reward. For Medicare-eligible providers, that first financial award is $18,000 if MU stage 1 is met in 2011 or 2012. The dollar-amount of the first-time rewards start dropping in 2013.

Medicare-eligible providers who meet the deadlines for all three stages of MU can earn a total of $44,000. (The rewards are higher for Medicaid-eligible providers, who can earn a maximum of $63,750 during six years of participation in the MU program.)

At last count in August, for the year to date the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had paid about $653 million in MU incentive rewards to over 6,500 eligible providers and more than 400 hospitals. Those year-to-date figures reflect the 2011 calendar-year payment period for eligible providers and 2011 fiscal-year payment period for hospitals.

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As most doctor practices probably realize by now, the maximum awards are allotted per eligible provider, not per practice. So, if a practice has several eligible doctors, each physician can qualify for the rewards. And those can add up. Just ask Gary Casino, executive director of Somerset Urological Associates, a four-doctor specialty practice in Sommerville, N.J.

By August, all four urologists in the practice had attested to MU stage 1 compliance, and at press time, three have received 2011 payments of $18,000 each, and one is awaiting payment.

"For a practice like ours, $18,000 is not insignificant," said Casino in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare.

"These aren't crazy requirements, $44,000 [in incentive payments] over four years for each doctor is worth it," he said. Fortunately, when Somerset Urology decided to participate in the MU incentive program, the practice had already been using its electronic medical record system from MeridianEMR for a couple of years.

So, when Somerset Urology in March began tackling the MU compliance effort led by Casino, the group approached it "as a work practice project, not a technology project," he said.

"It was overwhelming at first, but as you peel back, core requirement by requirement, it becomes easier," he said. For instance, being a urology specialty practice, Somerset physicians don't typically take patients' blood pressures or calculate body-mass index, he said. But with the recording of that data a core requirement of stage 1 MU, the practice's clinicians had to pick up the habit of taking those readings. "Doctors were told they need to do this," said Casino, who worked closely with MeridianEMR when the practice needed guidance. "It was a very collaborative effort," he said.

Casino used MeridianEMR's dashboard to track progress every day of the 90-day reporting period. "If I saw a dropoff with any data [collection], we'd address it the next day," he said.

"The first couple of weeks were difficult, and then it was a piece of cake," he said. "There wasn't a lot of heavy lifting."

As Stages 2 and 3 MU requirements get hammered out by the feds, "I'm confident that whatever they throw at us, we'll be able to do, unless they're ridiculous," he said.

Still, Casino understands the pain of other healthcare providers who might be having a harder time with meaningful use.

"We had our EMR system in place for more than two years, so practices who are only converting now to digital records have a double whammy," he said. But even still, "if you're just converting now to EMR, you have a map of what you'll need to do," he said. "Just keep working at it."

In the meantime, watch for the October digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare, which will delve into some best practices for achieving Meaningful Use compliance.

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