Meaningful use: Be wary of short-term financial carrot

By Dodge Communications on December 15th, 2011

As they say, “the early bird gets the worm.” Healthcare providers who qualified for Stage 1 meaningful use this year got a bit of a reprieve on Stage 2 compliance when CMS announced late last month that they could take until 2014 to meet the requirements—a year later than previously planned. And those hospitals and doctors who are on the ball and attest to meaningful use Stage 1 requirements by year’s end can qualify for incentive payments in 2011 and 2012. Those who said they would attest for Stage 1 in 2012, and, thus, Stage 2 in 2014 will need to stick to the original schedule.I applaud CMS for its decision to postpone the Stage 2 deadline given that a decision on the requirements, which are a work in progress, isn’t expected before next summer. I also appreciate their efforts to promote EHR adoption sooner rather than later, a message that has resonated with nearly 43 percent of physicians that are planning to apply for meaningful use incentives having computerized systems that would allow them to meet at least eight Stage 1 “core set” objectives, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, I find the language in the CMS press release announcing the delay a bit curious: "Doctors who act quickly can also qualify for incentive payments in 2011 as well as 2012." This coming only 30 days before the deadline. Even for those technically adept providers with who have been in an EHR environment for some time, proving meaningful use is not a slam dunk. Among the more difficult requirements is ensuring that physicians—and the EHR—are collecting enough of the right quality measures and public health information to support CMS reporting requirements. It demands providers have a compatible technology and the appropriate user-training mechanisms in place.I would hope that the proverbial carrot to entice providers into deploying an EHR doesn’t cause them to rush their EHR projects and risk a deployment error that sets them back with added costs and delays that could effectively negate the financial reward. Let’s remember what EHR utilization is really about: greater efficiencies and increased patient safety—two benefits with lasting and returns. Considering the host of other regulatory revamps demanding high technical compliance, including HIPAA 5010 and the ICD-10 conversion, healthcare organizations would be wise not to rush their EHR project just for the monetary incentive.