RHIOs struggling to meet Meaningful Use

Only 13 out of 75 fully operational regional health information organizations (RHIOs) in the U.S., reported the ability to meet basic electronic health record (EHR) requirements for Stage 1 of Meaningful Use, according to a study appearing this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

For the study, Harvard researchers received responses from 179 out of 197 potential RHIOs in 2009. The organizations are being created across the country to support health information exchanges (HIEs), which would permit hospitals and healthcare providers to share critical patient information.

Of those 179, however, no single RHIO met the "expert-derived criteria" for the comprehensive HIE needed to substantially improve care quality and efficiency, they survey's authors said.

The researchers found that financial challenges could be impacting the operation of RHIOs: only 25 of the 75 operational RHIOs they reviewed were financially viable. Of the 13 RHIOs that met Meaningful Use requirements, only six were financially viable.

The report noted this may be related in part to the fact that substantial start-up funding comes from the public sector. RHIOs eventually are expected to becoming self-sustaining--finding sources willing to pay for the value they create. In the long run, this may encourage RHIOs to focus on narrow sets of transactions--such as exchanging test results--"as opposed to a broader data exchange that might offer more substantial benefits," the report said.

In an accompanying editorial in the journal, Anwar A. Hussain, MD, of Johnson City, N.Y.-based United Health Services Hospitals, said that Meaningful Use policies are unrealistic from a provider's perspective. The author recommended that policy makers take a new approach that focuses on improving usability and functionality--before emphasizing widespread health IT adoption.

For more details:
- see the study's abstract
- see this Annals commentary abstract

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