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.
In the same open letter that Blumenthal touted survey results showing EHR adoption is "set to soar," he also advised healthcare providers to take advantage of resources being offered to help them choose and implement EHRs, as well as meet meaningful use.

"We recognize that EHR adoption and meaningful use are hard work and a big investment, especially for small primary care practices, where the vast majority of physicians work and where most of patient care is coordinated and documented," Blumenthal said.

Among the resources available are 62 Regional Extension Centers that are offering assistance directly to healthcare organizations, and the Health IT Workforce Development program that's training professionals to help doctors and hospitals deploy and manage EHR systems.

As healthcare providers delve into rolling out new EHRs -- or getting existing systems compliant with Stage 1 criteria -- they also need to remind themselves that the work continues well beyond the 2012 deadline for Stage 1.

Stages 2 and 3 add new, more complex requirements, especially around data exchange. Those stages will offer tech interoperability challenges, as well as new goals related to how and when data should be shared among providers.

Health information exchange (HIE) includes appropriate use cases and the incorporation of acquired data into the physician EHR workflow, testified Linda Reed, CIO at Atlantic Health, which operates several hospitals and healthcare facilities in New Jersey. In discussions with physicians in her organization, she said, it's clear that "they want autonomy in choosing technologies, but also expect to be able to send and receive data at will. The trouble is that many of them don't know what's required for this or whether they have capable systems."

Achieving meaningful use compliance will be a moving target as the requirements expand in Stages 2 and 3. But despite the ongoing work and attention that will be required by healthcare providers even as they "think" they've passed the Stage 1 finish line, Rick Ratliff, global managing director of Accenture's connected health IT solutions, sees the HITECH Act programs as a positive for the industry.

"The great part of this program is that is goes beyond adoption -- it incentivizes real use of systems to improve care," he said in an interview with InformationWeek. Accenture recently won a two-year contract to help ONC identify standards and specifications that will facilitate data exchange among healthcare providers

Despite the problems, there are already some compliance successes out there -- and even some who think the bar could be raised higher. Russ Branzell, CIO for Poudre Valley Health System told the Workgroup that while he doesn't consider his organization an "early adopter," Poudre is prepared to attest its Stage 1 compliance by the end of 2011.

"The lowering of the requirements for Stage 1, although appropriate for the industry, was disappointing for our organization," he said. We hope that the existing standards are reinforced with full implementation requirements for Stage 2 and 3."

So maybe there is some basis for the healthcare providers' confidence. We can only hope to see more real-world meaningful use success stories in coming months.