Definition of Meaningful Use

Posted on May 5, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

We’re all still sitting here waiting for the government to finally decide two key terms in regards to gaining access to the $18 billion in stimulus money in the HITECH act (ARRA). I’ve been interested in the subject myself since before it was even settled that we’d call it meaningful use as opposed to meaningful EMR user. From the looks of that post back in February, there was still a lot of confusion about “meaningful use” and “certified EHR.”

Turns out that a few months later, we still have very little clarification about what these two terms mean. Certified EHR discussion has really revolved around CCHIT certification or some other alternative. We’ll try to leave that discussion for other posts. What has been interesting is in just the past week or two there has been a literal flood of people offering their perspective on meaningful use. Sometimes I like to be on the cutting edge of these definitions (like I was in the link above) and other times I like to sit back and let them play out. This time I’ve been letting it play out and it’s really interesting to see the multitude of perspectives.

I’m not planning on writing my own plan for how they should do meaningful use. I may do that at a later time if so inclined. For now, I’ll just focus on highlighting points from what other people have suggested and provide commentary that will hopefully enhance people’s understanding of this complicated mandate (yes, that means this post will be quite long).

I think it’s reasonable to first point you to the NCVHS hearing on “Meaningful Use” of Health Information Technology. This matters, because at the end of the days hearings like these are where most of the information are going to come. Then, with the information from these hearing decisions will be made. The other sources like blogs won’t carry nearly as much weight (although it’s unfortunate that more politicians aren’t listening).

John Chilmark on Meaningful Use
Next, I’ll go to one of my newly found favorite bloggers named John Chilmark (any coincidence we’re both named John). John from Chilmark Research commented that HHS is bringing together the “usual suspects” to discuss “meaningful use. Chilmark also states that the following criteria are what’s required for meaningful use:

  1. Electronic Prescribing
  2. Quality Metrics Reporting
  3. Care Coordination

I’m not sure where he got this list, but this list feels kind of weak if you ask me. In fact, John suggests that these requirements will be simple and straightforward and first and then ratcheted-up in future years. Interesting idea to consider. I hope that they do draft the requirements for meaningful use in a way that it can be changed in the future if it turns out to not be producing the results it should be producing.

John Halamka on Meaningful Use
Next up, the famous John (another John) Halamka, Chief of every Health IT thing (at least in Boston), calls defining “meaningful use” “the most critical decision points of the new administration’s healthcare IT efforts.” He’s dead on here. In fact, it might not be the most critical decision for healthcare IT, but for healthcare in general as well. Here’s John Halamka’s prediction for how “meaningful use” will be defined:

My prediction of meaningful use is that it will focus on quality and efficiency. It will require electronic exchange of quality measures including process and outcome metrics. It will require coordination of care through the transmission of clinical summaries. It will require decision support driven medication management with comprehensive eRx implementation (eligibility, formulary, history, drug/drug interaction, routing, refills).

Basically, he’s predicting inter operable EMR software and ePrescribing with a little decision support sprinkled on top. I won’t be surprised if this is close to the final definition. The only thing missing is the reporting that will be required to the government. The government needs this data to fix Medicare and Medicaid (more on that in another post).

Blumenthal Comment to Government Health IT
Government Health IT has a nice quote from David Blumenthal that says: “The forthcoming definition of the “meaningful use” of health information technology will set the direction of the Obama administration’s strategy for health IT adoption, said David Blumenthal, the new national coordinator for health IT.”

I think there’s little doubt that David Blumenthal has a good idea of the importance of the decisions ahead. What should be interesting is to see how involved Obama is in these very important decisions. I’m guessing Obama won’t do much more than sign a paper to make it happen. I just hope I’m wrong.

HIMSS Definition of Meaningful Use
Here’s a short summary of the HIMSS definition of “meaningful use”

According to HIMSS officials, EHR technology is “meaningful” when it has capabilities including e-prescribing, exchanging electronic health information to improve the quality of care, having the capacity to provide clinical decision support to support practitioner order entry and submitting clinical quality measures – and other measures – as selected by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Basically, e-prescribing, interoperability and clinical decision support. Turns out a BNET Healthcare article suggested the same conclusion “The consensus of physician and industry representatives was that meaningful use should include interoperability, the ability to report standard quality measures, and advanced clinical decision-making.”

I think we’re starting to see a bit of a pattern here. I should say that these are all very good things, but the challenge I see is that any requirement needs to be easily and consistently measured. Interoperability and clinical decision support are both very difficult to measure. Just wait until they see the variety of software that tries to do those two things. It’s very difficult to measure it consistently across so many EHR software.

Wow!! I barely even got started on this subject. Instead of belaboring the point, let me just point you to some other interesting readings about the HITECH Act, ARRA, and “meaningful use.”

Please let me know if there are other good sources for perspectives on defining “meaningful use.” This really is a landmark decision for healthcare IT.