Meaningful Use progress 'uneven' for hospitals

The attestation outlook for hospitals is not quite as sunny as the government has indicated, with smaller, more rural hospitals struggling to meet Meaningful Use and at risk of incurring penalties, according to a new study in the August issue of Health Affairs.

The researchers, from Mathematica Policy Research and elsewhere, found that there was a "significant" increase in the percentage of hospitals receiving incentive payments for achieving Meaningful Use between 2011 and 2012--from 17.4 percent to 36.8 percent.

However, the majority of eligible hospitals still did not achieve Meaningful Use in the first two years of the program, according to the researchers. Moreover, hospitals are making "uneven" progress, typically associated with the "digital divide," with larger, teaching, for profit and Northeast hospitals the most successful.

The researchers found that smaller and critical access hospitals were particularly vulnerable to falling behind in Meaningful Use of EHRs due to their low patient volume, lack of resources to invest in EHRs, difficulty recruiting qualified IT personnel and trouble finding a suitable EHR vendor.

"Our findings suggest that as Stage 2 criteria are implemented, policymakers should pay particular attention to smaller and critical-access hospitals to ensure that they are able to meet the meaningful-use standards," the researchers said. "Without the full participation of these hospitals, the nation will not be able to achieve the larger policy goal of sharing data across providers and ensuring that clinical information follows patients wherever they receive care."

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid's latest attestation summary reports that participation in the Meaningful Use incentive program continues to grow, and that the total number of providers receiving payment under the program since 2011 is 309,802, representing more than $15.5 billion in payouts. However, the data covers only attestation in Stage 1 of the program; the criteria for Stage 2, which commences in 2014, are considerably more stringent.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract