Confidence in meaningful use may be high, but time is short

Maybe there's something to all these vendor pledges that their EMR software will help customers achieve "meaningful use." And maybe there's something to this certification thing.

A new report from KLAS Enterprises indicates that 85 percent of physicians are reasonably confident their ambulatory EMRs will get them to meaningful use, and will do so by 2011. Respondents indicated the highest level of confidence in products from Epic Systems, NextGen Healthcare Information Systems and Athenahealth, while the greatest doubts came from customers of SRSsoft and Amazing Charts. It should be noted that neither SRSsoft nor Amazing Charts have CCHIT certification, while products from the other three vendors do.

According to KLAS, physicians still are uneasy about the reporting functions of their EMRs, interoperability and the ability to let patients access their records. All are part of the proposed requirements for meaningful use. Fortunately, there's time for vendors to make these tweaks to their products and for practices to add such functionality, even if they have to turn to another vendor to provide a secure patient portal or interoperability gateway.

Note, though, that we're talking about the minority of physicians that already have some form of EMR. Tens of thousands of practices will be starting from scratch, and some may choose to forgo the Medicare and Medicaid incentives completely. At least practices can get up and running on an EMR in a matter of weeks or a few months. Hospitals don't have that luxury.

Even though hospitals tend to be farther along the EMR road, time indeed is short. For one thing, the incentive program starts Oct. 1 for hospitals because Medicare Part A is tied to the federal fiscal year, while physicians have until Jan. 1, 2011. And enterprise systems are magnitudes more complicated than ambulatory EMRs.

Another report issued this week, from Computer Sciences Corp., says that one-third of hospitals have not even begun a gap analysis to determine where their current IT systems fall short with regards to the federal requirements. (Remember, there's been a draft plan for meaningful use in the public domain since last summer.) And only a quarter of responding hospital executives say their facilities meet at least 70 percent of CSC's readiness indicators. Most hospitals are about halfway to achieving meaningful use, CSC says, but the clock is ticking.

It's not quite time to panic, but it is time to shake off the post-holiday doldrums and get moving. CSC estimates that a typical 275-bed hospital could be eligible for about $6 million in Medicare bonuses for using EMRs. That's too much money to ignore.

In case you've been living under a rock for the last eight days--or simply were on vacation or something--the long-awaited proposal for meaningful use of EMRs came out on Dec. 30. Plenty of people I've heard from dropped everything that evening and began digesting the 556-page CMS proposal and the companion rule on data standards from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology that weighed in at 136 pages. Panic seemed sure to ensue as providers scramble to comply with the rules so they can qualify for federal dollars. - Neil

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