Is Basic the New Meaningful?

For healthcare providers seeking to participate in the federal government’s “meaningful use” incentive program, the barrier of entry may be lowering.

David Hunt, MD, chief medical officer at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, indicated that criteria in the program’s first phase will focus on getting providers to purchase and begin using electronic health record systems. Hunt spoke at Health Data Management’s Health IT Stimulus Summit in Boston yesterday.

“You have to be able to send data, and [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] has to be able to receive it,” Hunt said, quoted in Health Data Management. “The big thing for 2011 is that you actually acquire this equipment and start using it.”

Hunt did not comment directly on what this meant for the criteria proposed by the Health IT Policy Committee this past summer. He noted that officials are collecting a “‘tremendous amount’ of information from many sources.”

The “meaningful use” program will provide Medicare or Medicaid bonuses to hospitals and physicians that become “meaningful” users of EHRs. Payments begin in 2011, leading many in the industry to question how ambitious the initial set of criteria can afford to be, given the low use of EHRs currently.

The program, specified in the HITECH section of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, leaves the details up to the Department of Health and Human Services. The Office of the National Coordinator, part of HHS, has been facilitating the process.

A proposed rule on the program is expected in December. The notice will include 60 days for public comment.

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