Government Debating 'Meaningful Use' Of E-Health Records

Members of the HIT Policy Committee are initially suggesting linking the use of health IT to individual care and public health outcomes.
E-health records have become a rallying point for IT and healthcare professionals, but pinpointing what constitutes "meaningful" information still eludes most agencies.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal government is waving nearly $20 billion in stimulus money at healthcare providers who, starting in 2011, will be rewarded for using health IT in "meaningful" ways. Problem so far is that no one is quite sure what "meaningful use" will mean. On Tuesday, the Health IT Policy Committee, an advisory group to the U.S. Health and Human Services Dept., began the work of hammering out the definition of "meaningful use."

Members of the HIT IT Policy Committee met in D.C. on Tuesday to begin the process of investigating and defining "meaningful use" of electronic health records.

The 20 member panel is charged with making recommendations to the Office of National Health IT Coordinator (ONC) -- headed up by health IT czar Dr. David Blumenthal -- regarding "a policy framework for the development and adoption of a nationwide health information infrastructure, including standards for the exchange of patient medical information," according the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

HIT Policy Committee members on Tuesday discussed recommendations from its Meaningful Use work group. Those recommendations, which will be open to public comment until June 26, will be considered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and ONC in developing the rules providing details about the federal stimulus incentive programs and the definition of meaningful use. CMS expects to issue its proposed rules in late 2009.

So far, recommendations of the HIT Policy Committee include linking the use of health IT to individual care and public health outcomes. That includes 2011 goals of capturing patient data -- such as medication lists, health problems, allergies, and demographic information in coded formats -- using computerized physician order-entry for all order types, including prescriptions; and managing populations of patients, such as listing those with specific medical conditions.

Looking ahead, recommendations for 2013 and beyond include improving public health surveillance via electronic syndromic data that's sent to public health agencies; using data to improve quality, safety and efficiency, including implementing clinical decision support for national high priority conditions.

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