February 01, 2011

Meaningful Use – Wait and See or Take Action Now?

I recently read a blog post that points out (among many other things) that participation in Meaningful Use healthcare initiatives is voluntary. In this post, a point is made that many organizations are going “all-in” regarding their efforts to achieve Meaningful Use criteria. In doing so, they are “moving outside their box, in the sense that attempting to qualify for incentive funds is forcing them beyond their capacity….” This post also points out healthcare organizations can choose not to participate in Meaningful Use and, technically speaking, that is true. The future penalties, as it stands today, for not achieving Stages 1-3 are specific to reimbursement from the government for Medicare/ Medicaid services delivered. If healthcare organizations choose not to provide medical services for Medicare/Medicaid patients, then they are not subject to the financial penalties.

For many reasons, I do not believe this is practical. Our nation’s population is aging and significant care is provided to Medicare/Medicaid patients. If you consider the financial situation for healthcare providers today, removing Medicare/Medicaid patients from the equation leaves organizations that can no longer meet their financial obligations and will be forced to close their doors. In addition to creating financial constraints, the concept of turning away the people who are most in need of care runs contrary to the mission of healthcare providers. In theory, it is true that organizations can opt out of Meaningful Use criteria, however, in reality, most organizations cannot and will not opt out.

The timetables and criteria for compliance will likely evolve over time and some concessions will probably be made, but the direction appears to be set and HITECH is here to stay. Implementation of Electronic Medical Records and the use of technology will, in the long run, improve patient care, patient outcomes and reduce costs. It will be challenging; however Meaningful Use compliance is something healthcare organizations are going to have to plan for and achieve.

Roadmap plans for achieving Meaningful Use will vary greatly among healthcare organizations but one thing is certain: the processes and technologies deployed today will be vastly different from the ones deployed four to five years from now. The roadmap plan should include an assessment of the current infrastructure and its ability to support the upcoming changes in process and technology. Success will depend in great part on the ability of the underlying network infrastructure to support the clinical applications and technologies deployed in the name of Meaningful Use initiatives.

Some organizations might choose to take a wait and see approach in the hope that requirements may change, however the majority of healthcare executives and industry experts that I have spoken with believe the course is set. Time tables may adjust but the end goals of improving patient care and managing costs more effectively are reasons enough to embark down the Meaningful Use path.

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