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How to Fast-Track Your Meaningful Use Effort

July 6, 2011
by Judy Murphy, Aurora Health Care, and Bob Schwyn, Aspen Advisors
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A pragmatic approach to filling in the gaps and earning your incentives

Though the Stage One attestation process for Meaningful Use (MU) incentives opened in April 2011, the number of hospitals that will attest in the early stages is likely to be underwhelming, according to at least two recent surveys. One, from the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME), found that fewer than one-third of responding healthcare CIOs expect to qualify by September 30, 2011. A second, from the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), found that only 44 percent of hospitals thought they would be ready to qualify by May 2012. That’s disappointing, but not surprising. Understanding and meeting the MU requirements demands a significant effort. To qualify for incentives in Stage One, “eligible hospitals” must meet 14 core measures, and then demonstrate they’ve also met five of the remaining 10 menu set measures. “Eligible professionals” (clinicians) must meet 15 core measures and five of 10 menu set measures. Ongoing clarifications from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) have added to the challenge. One clarification, for example, requires that organizations “possess” the software for all of the menu items, even though they are only expected to “demonstrate” five of the 10 menu set measures.

To qualify for incentives in Stage One, Eligible Hospitals must meet 14 core measures, and then demonstrate they’ve also met five of the remaining 10 menu set measures. Eligible Professionals (clinicians) must meet 15 core measures and five of 10 menu set measures.

Despite such demands, we believe the number of organizations attesting is far lower than it should be. Having an electronic health record (EHR) in place that meets MU standards is quickly becoming a must-have for any clinical operation, so why not attain incentives to offset the costs? It can be done in a reasonable time period if hospitals and physician groups take some thoughtful initial steps. This paper describes the steps.

Create a Strong FoundationIf you haven’t done so already, an important first step is to model your financial opportunity in the MU EHR Incentive program, based on your volume of Medicare and Medicaid patients. A simple approach is to use the instructions on the CMS Tip Sheets for Medicare and Medicaid to calculate your potential return. A clear, realistic picture can help you: 1) understand the value proposition for your organization’s MU project, 2) engage in a more precise budgeting process, and 3) confidently balance MU with other competing priorities.

That balance is critical. Like most hospitals and health systems, you’re probably already contending with multiple strategic considerations that range from deciding whether to apply for the CMS Medicare Shared Savings program to incorporating ICD-10 coding and weighing merger and acquisition opportunities. Those competing priorities could cause you to allocate inadequate resources for your MU project; the resulting hasty implementation might make short-term financial sense, but may not address key patient safety issues and could put your future EHR incentives (Stages Two and Three) at risk.

In contrast, designating MU as a strategic project and placing it in the context of overall strategic planning can help ensure there are enough resources to plan, design, implement and foster clinical adoption of a system that meets both the MU measures and your organization’s needs.

An important next step is to create a dedicated program management structure with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, some exclusively for MU, others integrated into existing clinical structure – and to begin creating the project plan. One effective component of the plan is to engage your Government Affairs and Compliance departments to take leadership roles in understanding the regulations, delivering the needed MU documentation, and tracking the updated guidance from ONC and CMS using the published FAQs.

In addition, the program management team should collaborate as much as possible with: your EHR vendor; other hospitals and health systems, especially those who use the same EHR vendor; consultants; and health information technology (HIT) organizations like the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), CHIME, and HIMSS. This enables your team to benchmark what’s possible and avoid reinventing the wheel.

Finally, complement the program management structure with a strong communication plan that engages the entire organization and helps people understand what the MU program is and how it’s tied to your existing strategic mission, vision and goals. If your employees have a clear sense of MU’s strategic, financial – and, especially, clinical and patient safety value – they are more likely to engage in the activities needed to achieve the incentives. Seeing the link will help eliminate concerns that the MU program is only about the incentive money and is out of context of the organization’s strategic plan.

Once these basic building blocks are in place, you can turn your attention to two near-term challenges for Stage One attestation: first, gauging and closing the gap needed to attain the incentives and, second, simultaneously assessing how you will work with existing or prospective EHR vendors.

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