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September 18, 2013 Readers Write No Comments

Meaningful Use to the Maximum: Keeping the Focus on the Patient
By Gary Hamilton

9-18-2013 6-33-03 PM

Across the country, healthcare organizations are evaluating their ability to meet the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Meaningful Use (MU) requirements. Data recently released by CMS revealed that more than 23,000 family physicians became first-time “meaningful users” last year, a 180 percent increase from 2011. At the same time, CMS data showed a 21 percent drop in the retention rate of attesting physicians.

Although these statistics reflect one portion of the physicians seeking to attest for MU, they point to a bigger issue among all entities involved in this effort. While MU Stage 1 attestations are up, the number of providers dropping out of the program before reaching Stage 2 is also on the rise.

The question is: Why?

One contributing factor may be the lack of focus on “meaningfully” using technology. As physicians and hospitals embark on the MU journey, they often focus their attention on technology purchases and upgrades, losing sight of the true intent of the government’s program—to improve patient care.

In fact, some organizations have been so preoccupied with the technical components of their IT systems and how they meet Stage 1 requirements that they fail to realize their current technology is not capable, or does not have the necessary certifications, to help them meet Stage 2. As organizations become increasingly concerned with Stage 2’s escalating requirements, some providers are deciding it is easier to drop out of the MU process than to continue to the next level.

For those physicians and hospitals that do decide to forge ahead, it’s imperative not to lose sight of the intent of MU: a better patient experience both in terms of outcomes and satisfaction. To do this, healthcare providers must go beyond merely viewing MU attestation as a “check the box” exercise; instead, they must take a more strategic approach that puts the patient at the center of the process.

Here are some key questions to keep in mind when developing a MU strategy that maximizes the “meaningful” in Meaningful Use.

1. How would you use technology to improve patient care if the government’s incentive program didn’t exist?

Elevating patient care and making it more patient-centered cannot be viewed as a separate initiative from MU attestation. To keep the patient firmly at the forefront of MU efforts, an organization first must consider how to foster patient-centered care and then think about the technology that will best enable the work. Many MU standards represent activities that organizations should be doing to make the care experience more patient-driven, regardless of the decision to attest. These efforts can also streamline operations, enhance workflow ,and facilitate strong care coordination. For instance, patient-focused organizations should consider implementing technology that enables electronic scheduling and appointment reminders as both a convenience for patients and a time-saver for staff. Or, electronic forms should be used to speed new patient registration, eliminating the need to scan or key paper documents and control delivery.

2. Is the technology you’re considering “smart” for your organization and your patients?

For technology to be beneficial, patients and providers must fully embrace and use it. To realize this level of interaction, an organization must consider both patient and provider needs and workflows when selecting technology. Getting a firm grasp on this information may require an organization to conduct focus groups, interviews, or surveys to learn more about both groups’ needs and how the technology can best meet those needs. Things to look at include how the technology can improve convenience, enhance information sharing, further efficiency, and foster communication. By taking the time to fully appreciate and respond to patient and provider input, an organization can ensure the selected technology is appropriate and “smart” for the organization.

3. Is your patient-centered approach enabling the transition to MU Stage 2 and beyond?

MU Stage 1 requires organizations to prepare to involve patients in their care by providing patients the ability to request and view an electronic copy of their health information. Beginning in 2014, a key Stage 2 objective will require at least five percent of a health organizations’ patient population to download, view, and transmit health information. When organizations attest for MU Stage 1 with an eye toward patient-centered care and strong information sharing, they not only meet MU Stage 1 requirements, but also lay the groundwork for MU Stage 2 and beyond, progressing toward the next stage faster and more efficiently. More importantly, they are able to maintain greater patient focus and foster satisfaction because patients are interacting with the technology in a way that is both convenient and enhances the care experience.

Successfully meeting MU criteria requires patient-centered care to remain the central focus, regardless of the stage. Without maintaining this attention, an organization can quickly get lost in the weeds of technical specifications and lists of requirements. By intentionally selecting technology that keeps the patient at the forefront, organizations can provide a positive patient experience while bolstering patient loyalty. Engaging this approach can effectively underpin efforts to not only meet the MU criteria, but also put the “meaningful” back in Meaningful Use.

Gary Hamilton is president and founder of InteliChart of Fort Mill, SC.

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