Meaningful Use Doesn't Have to Be Hard
By the beginning of 2011, a year into a five-year endeavor, some 18,000 eligible
providers had registered to achieve Meaningful Use of an electronic health record
(EHR). As the head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information
Technology put it, the nation's health care community is entering an "age of meaningful
use." But at this point in the journey, many eligible providers are finding that the
road to Meaningful Use is bumpier than anticipated.
Meaningful Use represents specific criteria that
individual eligible providers must fulfill in their use of certified EHRs to receive up to
$44,000 from Medicare over five years. From 2011 to 2012, the process is in Stage 1,
when eligible providers must capture specified patient information like vital signs and
demographics. To meet Stage 1 criteria and receive up to $18,000 in the first year, providers
must attest to demonstration of 15 core and 5 of 10 menu criteria using a certified EHR.
However, many practices are learning—and sharing with an ONC committee—that
their vendors will be charging fees for upgrades, consulting services, new modules,
and other unforeseen up-charges. Some are looking at the added expenses and
wondering if the stimulus payments will be enough to recoup their investments. And
because they use software and not a service, the requirements are already proving
unwieldy and burdensome. A recent athenahealth survey of 500 physicians in the
Sermo online community found that only 16% are very confident their vendors will
help secure incentives.
You won't hear those complaints and concerns from Dr. Lenita Hanson.
Dr. Hanson runs Ultra Care Endocrine & Diabetes Consultants in Venice, Florida. Her
practice is an athenahealth pilot practice for Meaningful Use certification and she has found that
the unique, off-the-shelf services provided by athenaClinicals have gotten her off to
an easy, pain-free start to Meaningful Use certification.
athenaClinicals, athenahealth's EHR service, received complete ONC certification for
Stage 1 Meaningful Use on October 10, 2010. Since all providers are on a single instance of cloud-based
software, just five days later all athenaClinicals clients were using a Stage 1 Meaningful Use
certified EHR. Any software changes to support Meaningful Use—such as changing a template to
accommodate newly required data—are pushed to all clients immediately due to the
cloud-based nature of athenahealth's EHR.
Instant and Free Updates Through the Cloud
Hanson converted from paper charts in 2002 and has never looked back. She benefits from
the fact that her existing workflow meshed well with the tasks required under Stage 1. For
starters, she already followed a process of reviewing charts the day before her patient
appointments. So the added Meaningful Use inputs for ethnicity and smoking status are simple.
"You should know if your patient is a smoker. It was not hard because we've been doing
a lot of this already. You should have been capturing that documentation anyway. And it
really doesn't take that much longer."
The work fits into her routine because it has always been required before the patient arrives.
"Someone needs to capture the information ahead of time," she says. "Once the
patient is in the exam room you really don't have time to
make these updates in the
Since athenaClinicals is cloud-based, Hanson and other athenahealth providers don't
need a technician to install upgrades or change the software to reflect Meaningful Use requirements.
Whatever is needed is built into a template transparently by athenahealth and rolled
out to all practices instantly at no extra cost.
And in addition to providing a nimble and adaptable EHR with a Pay-for-Performance
dashboard, athenahealth coaches clients with Meaningful Use webinars and provides an online
Meaningful Use Resource Center loaded with the latest information and helpful videos to ensure
providers are taking the right steps throughout the process. All this, along with training,
performance reports and proactive support are part of athenahealth's standard service offering.
Seeing Past the Pain to the Benefit
Hanson understands why doctors using other vendors are frustrated with Meaningful Use. Like
any business owner, she too must be mindful of cash flow and the need to comply with
government requirements. The difference for Hanson, and for other athenahealth clients,
is that athenahealth takes much of the burden of compliance off the practice so it can
focus on patient care.
"I am against mandates. Most doctors are," she says. "But with athena, many of the
measures are already there. athena makes it easy. It really does. As far as achieving
Meaningful Use, it's already built into the EHR. It's easy to achieve Meaningful Use."
While many doctors view the EHR as an expensive technology with uncertain benefits,
athenaClinicals has already proven its value to Hanson by decreasing costly errors and
uncovering untapped sources of Pay-for-Performance revenue.
Better Performance Along the Way
Not only has the beginning of the path to Meaningful Use been smooth, but Hanson can't believe
how much better the practice performs on athenaClinicals. For example, electronic
prescription is required under Meaningful Use and it really does streamline her practice.
"E-prescribing is so much easier than regular prescribing. It's a two-click thing. It's
a two-second process and that's certainly easier. If a patient wants a prescription on
Friday when the practice is closed, now it comes over my computer. I just two-click it
and the patient gets the prescription. So, the efficiency of the office has improved."
Hanson knows running a medical practice is hard work with high overhead costs and
exposure to liability. She also realizes that the medical community is going through
a tough transition now, whether in conversion from paper charts or attempting Meaningful Use
with a slow EHR. She's just begun the journey to Meaningful Use, but with
athenahealth behind her she knows a little extra work today adds up to a better
practice and healthier patients.
"After a year, most doctors should be able to see the benefit of the EHR," she says.
"In the long-term it provides easy access to patient information, quicker access to
that information, reminders for patient care and, in the end, better patient care."