Don't forget the 'meaningful' and 'use' parts of 'meaningful use'

Monday in FierceHealthIT, I discussed how Denni McColm, CIO of Citizens Memorial Hospital in Bolivar, Mo., has concerns about quality reporting in the federal EMR subsidy program, even though the hospital is one of just 39 in the country to reach Stage 7 of the HIMSS Analytics EMR Adoption model.

Today, I want to share more details from my interview with McColm, particularly how Citizens got to Stage 7.

After more than six years of work implementing a Meditech EMR, Citizens completed the Stage 7 requirement for being able to send electronic patient summaries to other providers by connecting the Meditech system with, of all things, Google Health.

McColm reports that local media swarmed when they found out Google was involved after virtually ignoring other milestones in the Citizens IT project. The 74-bed hospital won a Nicholas E. Davies Award of Excellence in 2005 and has hosted site visits from hospitals as far away as Dubai, but it took a big name like Google with a product barely out of beta to draw TV stations from all over southwest Missouri.

That made me laugh and shake my head at the same time. I've been harshly critical of mainstream media's breathless fawning over the likes of Google Health and Microsoft's HealthVault while they fail to understand what it is that personal health records actually are. Consider this another reminder.

Like EMRs, PHRs are only as good as the data that goes in them. PHRs also are even less mature a technology than EMRs. Google's and Microsoft's products are in the early stages of development, while some vendors--Epic Systems immediately comes to mind--have been working on patient portals for years.

The Citizens example demonstrates that Google Health really works, but it still doesn't necessarily mean the product can help hospitals achieve meaningful use. Nor does it mean that patients will embrace PHRs or that physicians will be interested in patient-entered data from such records.

The mere presence of a company like Google in a rural Midwestern town may draw the TV cameras, but it doesn't guarantee patients will get better, more cost-effective care. Don't forget the "meaningful" and "use" parts of "meaningful use." - Neil