News Feature | April 29, 2014

Meaningful Use And Its Burden On VARs

By Megan Williams, contributing writer

Meaningful Use And IT VARs

Healthcare is at a turning point. Entities ranging from individual providers to the federal government are looking for ways to cut costs, and advancements in the use of patient data have provided opportunities that didn’t before exist.

Enter Meaningful Use.

What Is Meaningful Use?

The Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs provide financial incentives for healthcare entities who can prove that they’re making “meaningful use” of EHR technology to improve patient care. Any entity that wants to meet Meaningful Use standards has to go through a three-stage process with increasing requirements.

So far, since the 2011 implementation, only Stage 1 and Stage 2 requirement details have been released, but healthcare entities and providers who started the program early on will not be eligible to begin Stage 3 until 2016. Still, enough time has passed for the industry to begin to evaluate exactly how the program is impacting healthcare entities and how they’re measuring up.

What This Means For Solutions Providers

If you are implementing EHR for a client, or are interested in helping them meet standards, the news around Meaningful Use is something you’ll want to keep up with.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) initially proposed a certification fee for EHR vendors who want to certify their products as Meaningful Use compliant. The fee is intended to fund a program designed to help healthcare providers sort out vendors who are correctly meeting program standards.

The fees and standards have proven to be a stumbling block for vendors, with many still asking the government for more time, and passing increased implementation costs on to their clients. Developers were initially given 16 months from the certification publish date to comply. Not surprisingly, the vendors who achieved program standards on time (as of March 2014, there were more than 80), find the delays frustrating, especially in light of the time and financial resources they invested to comply on schedule.

Some Vendors Still Lag Behind

With Stage 2 in process though, they may get some satisfaction. While Stage 1 meant a flood of vendors with flashy sales pitches advertising their compliance, Stage 2’s increasingly complex and stringent requirements have left many new entrants unable to keep up.

According to Healthcare IT News, this has been especially true for vendors offering large, over-inflated software answers to the Meaningful Use question. More efficient and affordable cloud-based options have proven to be more agile in the face of current and coming implementation stages.

Healthcare Providers Are Frustrated

According to EHR Intelligence, a survey of providers performed in January 2014, revealed that only 13 percent had upgraded their EHR systems, with many waiting on vendors to make their way through the certification process. AHIMA Director of HIM Practice Excellence, Diana Warner empathizes with vendor difficulties. "For the vendors, it is not like they are not trying … I have talked to different vendors and people who work for them and they are scrambling as much as anybody else about this initiative. For the 2011 Edition Certification, there were over 1,700 ambulatory products and over 300 inpatient products that were Stage 1 Meaningful Use certified. But 2014 Edition Certification, there are maybe 75 ambulatory products and 17 inpatient products. That is a real challenge.”

The future of Meaningful Use is full of questions. The July 1 hardship exception deadline is fast approaching for vendors and providers, and the industry as a whole has begun questioning whether the process is beneficial at all.