Healthcare CIOs Worried About Achieving Meaningful Use

Reporting requirements and uncertainty around the meaningful use criteria raise concerns with 80% of healthcare CIOs according to survey findings.
While the U.S. government is still finalizing its criteria for the meaningful use incentive programs of the HITECH Act, a new study shows that eight-in-10 healthcare CIOs are worried about meeting the requirements in time to qualify for the $20 billion-plus rewards.

According to the survey, CIOs' biggest worries revolve around the anticipated reporting requirements and uncertainty around the meaningful use criteria. The study by PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute earlier this year surveyed 120 CIOs and other health IT leaders who are members of the College of Healthcare Management Executives, a professional organization for health IT executives.

Ninety-four percent of the survey respondents said they are concerned about how to report meaningful use and 92% said they are worried about "remaining lack of clarity" in the meaningful use criteria.

While the first round of meaningful rewards start in 2011, the federal government has not yet issued its final meaningful use requirements.

Near-final rules were released earlier this year, however the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services has been working on its final requirements for several months, including evaluating the approximately 2,000 public comments it received about its proposed rules.

National Coordinator for Health IT Dr. David Blumenthal has said in recent interviews and at public events that meaningful use criteria will be finalized in "late spring."

A spokeswoman for the office of national coordinator said in an email to InformationWeek on Monday that the rules will be released in "the near future" but did not specify a timeframe.

Meanwhile, the study also found that fueling CIOs' anxiety are concerns about balancing meaningful use efforts with other management priorities (83%); overall cost (79%); achieving return of investment within a reasonable timeframe (75%); access to capital (71%); and the availability of skilled IT resources (70%).

Other concerns include infrastructure requirements, vendor readiness, and effecting behavioral change across their organizations.

Communication seems to be a key contributor in the level of anxiety healthcare CIOs feel about meeting the requirements.

Those organizations that have been communicating with their vendors, payers, physicians and others about where their systems and processes stand and the gaps that need to be conquered generally seem more confident about meeting the requirements, said Bruce Henderson, national leader of PricewaterhouseCooper's e-health records and health information exchange practice in an interview with InformationWeek.

The survey found that healthcare organizations planning to apply for the incentives in 2011 are three times more likely to incorporate patient input, 87% more likely to work with health insurers, and 63% more likely to assist physicians with regard to meaningful use than are those organizations planning to apply for the first time after 2011.

More confident organizations appear to have "selected systems, have a understanding of the [draft] requirements, have been talking to their vendors about what needs to be tweaked and what gaps they might have and what it might cost to get where they need to be," Henderson said.

Even without the final meaningful use rules issued yet, the draft rules offer enough insight into the sorts of requirements likely to be ultimately issued, he said.

"Putting your head in the sand won't help," he said.

"A portion of the industry looks at this as a technology issue, but it's anything but," he said. Much of the work healthcare providers need to do involve their actual clinical processes, not just technology, he said.

"A lot of clinical processes need to be embedded [with the technology] to reach meaningful use," he said.

"That's what meaningful use is all about. That's what the government is trying to achieve."