The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has evolved a set of standards for electronic health recordkeeping. The mission of the program is to improve the level of patient care, make the delivery process transparent, and enable a platform that makes interchange of health information easy. The program is sought to be implemented in three stages to give adequate time for the eligible professionals and hospitals to get familiar with the technology and deliver the expected levels of performance.

To incentivize the process of adoption of EHR technology that is meaningful and consistent with the mission of the program, an incentive scheme has also been established that pays out cash over a period of five to six years. “The American Recovery and Reinvestment ACT (ARRA)” authorizes the cash reimbursements. While participation is voluntary, eligible professionals and hospitals are penalized a percentage of their fees if they do not adopt the standards.

The Goal of Meaningful Use

The sole reason behind the implementation of the Meaningful Use program is to promote the adoption of electronic health records to significantly improve the delivery of medical care to patients besides making the entire process transparent to the patients and their families. The performance benchmarks set out in the various stages of MU are designed to significantly improve patient outcomes while adhering to best practices and enhancing the level of patient safety.

By electronically recording healthcare data, it will become possible to share the information with all the healthcare providers involved without the patient having to communicate his individual case history manually. This will not only reduce the chances of errors but also significantly reduce the time taken for the patient to receive care that is appropriate. Further, adoption of electronic health recordkeeping enables superior patient empowerment with better access to health information and the ability to share it with others without fear of data leakage and loss of security and confidentiality.

MU stage 1 and 2 certification that leads up to the Stage 3 adoption has been logically devised to ensure that eligible professionals and hospitals are given adequate time to switch over to the new technology and offered a chance to reach a stage wherein they can adhere to the specified standards consistently and competently.

Three Distinct Stages of MU Implementation 

The MU program has three separate stages that need to be implemented in the specified timeframes. Stage 1 provides the fundamentals to usher in the change in the process of medical health recordkeeping and the associated culture change. This stage lays down the tasks that need to be addressed by the EHR system, including the capturing of electronic data and health-related information of patients. Stage 2 goes on to build upon the competencies achieved in the earlier stage and also focuses on enhancing the level of electronic information interchange between various healthcare providers as well as giving patients access to their health information on an online and secure platform. This stage also provides definitions for clinical outcomes relating with the collection, reporting and sharing of quality parameters. Stage 3 continues with the process of improvement of patient care and health delivery.

MU Adoption Incentives

To receive the incentives as well as avoid the penalties laid down in Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, eligible hospitals and professionals must mandatorily and successfully demonstrate how they have adopted EHR into their patient care processes. While MU deployment need not be attested in the very first year, it is obligatory for participants to shift to the electronic mode to the extent specified to qualify for the incentive payouts.

All the three stages of meaningful use are designed to be implemented over a period of five years or six years depending upon whether the coverage is under Medicare or Medicaid. Healthcare providers under Medicare get a cash incentive of $44,000 over five years and on the other hand, those under Medicaid receive $63,750 over 6 years. Failure to participate in the MU program invites a penalty of 1% of the fees received from Medicare/Medicaid, with the figure growing to 3% in 2017 and later.

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