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August 5, 2013 Readers Write No Comments

A Meaningful View of Meaningful Use
By Helen Figge, PharmD, MBA, CPHIMS, FHIMSS

Meaningful Use has meaning to us all. While we struggle to decide timelines for milestones and determining measured success, we all experience Meaningful Use in our daily lives.

First and foremost, we are all consumers of healthcare living in a society that wants immediate gratification. As consumers, we are being granted instant healthcare gratification through the lens of Meaningful Use. We receive visit summaries, electronic copies of our medical records, and a detailed report of our current medications. Our providers have access to information such as our laboratory reports, X-ray reports, and notes from our specialists. We are encouraged to engage in our own care by having access to our data through patient portals.

We can ask our clinicians new questions based on previous test results, which is great for the patient, but perhaps less than ideal for the clinician (e.g. a TSH ranges from 0.3 to 5.0 – so what is normal for me or for you? Does a low value mean something versus a higher one?) We assume all are equally computer savvy, which in turn creates a potential digital divide. Some more tech-savvy patients “get it” with little prodding, while others finding this new Meaningful Use approach cumbersome, yielding potentially more work for the clinician. 

Maybe to counteract this one potential angst of patient computer illiteracy, should we offer patients a computer literacy course in order to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them by Meaningful Use?

There seems to be a learning curve for us as healthcare consumers. Not only learning the technologies given to us for data access, but also comprehension of the new rules of healthcare engagement. Given that we want it and want it now, Meaningful Use is the lightning bolt needed to energize the healthcare delivery system. Most noteworthy of all, Meaningful Use to a healthcare consumer is invisible, and translates to a meaningful interaction with our healthcare provider with the highest quality of care delivered to us that is coordinated, seamless, accessible, real-time, and complete.

Next comes the clinician, whose perspective is somewhat more sterile. Patient record transparency and best practices yielding to a more informed patient with data in real-time, workflow supportive and organized is the nirvana. But, in reality, the technologies do not always support clinician workflow, hence the angst felt today with the execution of Meaningful Use to some clinicians. Additionally, clinicians have an extra burden to exercise patience with their patients who might overuse or underuse these new approaches for data access.

But if patience is exercised, Meaningful Use will work to transform healthcare the way we all want it to be. It just might take a little more time for some to realize the benefits, lending fuel to the current discussions of some “catching up” with others in the various stages of Meaningful Use. And to compound our “want it and want it now” mentality, don’t forget the Direct Project that if exercised correctly could improve communication across many layers of clinician thought. The problem with that project, however, is the select few who enjoy its rewards as many haven’t caught up to the pack yet for this vehicle offered in healthcare today to work for optimal effect.

Now enter the poor vendor who finds Meaningful Use an opportunity, but also a challenge. The challenge comes not only from the institution that purchased the technology, but the various stakeholders that institution represents. Vendors who can’t keep pace with these demands will now become easily identified, and these vendors in turn will now more than ever experience negative selection because stakeholders will opt for software that supports healthcare delivery.

Vendors also need to contend with clinicians who have the extra burden of now hearing from patients that the technologies are not user-friendly, adding fuel to patient dissatisfaction. This is a double whammy of frustration. Complaints fielded by clinicians are in turn angsts for the CIOs, who then turn their aggressions on the vendor for immediate response and relief.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were software platforms, yet our need for instant gratification overrides the ability to work through issues that otherwise without emotion would be handled quite effectively. Darwinian Theory of evolution plays well here: only the best adapted will survive (the vendor, I mean). The meaning of Meaningful Use to a vendor is twofold: to deliver high quality technology meeting acceptable government criteria and also technology that all stakeholders find acceptable, functional, and timely.

Finally the last group who should or could benefit from Meaningful Use if implemented, accepted, and seamlessly delivered involves insurers (third-party payers) that have been battling the cost containment of healthcare for quite some time. If insurers were really wanting to make a difference in healthcare costs, they would reward more for preventive care and support universally such processes as the Patient Centered Medical Home and also invest in the health of our bodies real time, not years later when we are ravaged by illnesses due to poor lifestyle, poor gene pool, or a combination of the two. In the end, if Meaningful Use is supported by these groups, the insurers will benefit from lower healthcare consumption, more efficiency, and better outcomes.

Meaningful Use has meaning to us all and worthy of support. It just needs to be appreciated and agile enough to survive the need for our society’s immediate need for gratification and be resilient enough to let some play catch up.

Helen Figge, PharmD, MBA, CPHIMS, FHIMSS  is advisor, clinical operations and strategies, for VRAI Transformation.

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