Are "Meaningful Use Rules" Not So Meaningful Anymore?

John Fisher
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Stopping Medical Injustice
In order to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments available through the 2009 federal stimulus package, health care providers must demonstrate they are making "meaningful use" of electronic health records (EHR) within their facilties. 

According to experts,  private healthcare providers that purchase and utilize electronic health record systems and can demonstrate that they meet the "meaningful use" standard, can receive "up to $44,000 per doctor in reimbursement funds through Medicare and $63,750 under Medicaid" beginning next year, while hospitals could receive "millions" in reimbursement funds.

On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) finally released its final version of the guidelines detailing the reporting measures that must be taken by healthcare providers to qualify for these incentives over the next four years. Surprisingly, the new standards signifigantly lower the bar of the measures that physicians and other healthcare providers must take to receive such reimbursements. For example, the number of measures that must be taken was reduced from 90 to 44 and providers must only electronically report three of such measures that were taken.

Supporters of the change argue that the old rules were too inflexible and "meaningful use" of EHRs was unattainable. However, others say that the reason for the reduction in measures is due to the fact that CMS itself "has no way to receive reports electronically much of the time". Opponents also argue that the final rules "do little to promote the electronic exchange of EMRs between hospitals and among states". Instead, these issue will not be dealt with until later "phases" of the rules are released.

What do you think of the reduction in measures that healthcare providers must complete in order to receive reimbursements? I personally think that the new rules may have both a positive and negative effect on patients. Due to the relaxation of the rules, physicians may be less likely to take certain lifesaving measures that the old rules required the physician take. For example, the old rules required that 50% of all patients 50 years old and over had to be sent electronic reminders for care management. The new rules now only require that 20% of all patients 65 and over be sent reminders. Those reminders could potentially save someone's life. On the other hand, the new measures require that healthcare providers must implement EHR systems by 2015 or face monetary penalties. I think that this is a good thing, as I believe that the implementation of EHR systems may improve patient safety, quality management, and outcome reporting. Hopefully, phases II and III of these new rules will iron out any problems that exist in the new rules, and EHR systems will become an important and invaluable part of the healthcare world.
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