Thoughts on Meaningful Use Criteria

A number of people are starting to write about the meaningful use criteria. I’ll plan on highlighting a number of the comments happening around the web about meaningful use here on EMR and EHR. The first up is the always interesting HIStalk’s thoughts (see bullet points below) on the recently released meaningful use interim final rule and a link to HISTalk’s excel file listing the provider requirements for meaningful use (a good place to start for doctors).

  • I’m trying to figure out who the big winners will be if these criteria are approved. Consultants for sure. Companies like RelayHealth that provide eligibility, claims, and information exchange services. Companies that can perform a security analysis. Vendors that offer a usable medication reconciliation function. Vendors with patient portals. Companies that can help put vital signs information directly into the EMR.
  • Losers: EMR vendors already strapped to pay for CCHIT certification who now have to cough up another million or two to meet the additional requirements. That’s another blow to small and innovative vendors who aren’t raking in the cash, meaning the market tilts even more in favor of the older, bigger ones whose sales were so limited that the government decided to intervene in the free market in the first place. Market consolidation is probably good, but I expect the development agenda will now be even more driven by Uncle Sam, not users (especially since the HITECH sales window is small, so even sales-driven innovation may dry up once everybody has chosen their dance partner).
  • Lots of folks, me included, expected the criteria to be a slam dunk for moderately tech-savvy hospitals and practices. Not so: considering the small percentages of them using CPOE and e-prescribing, the minority that can provide electronic copies of information to patients, and the small number of practices that can provide patients with fast access their online health information, the these are stretch goals. I bet those requirements will be dialed back in the final version for that reason.
  • Good luck with providing the denominator number for the reimbursement measures. You will need to know the total number of prescriptions generated, the number of orders issued, and the number of episodes in which medication reconciliation should have been performed. The document indicates an estimated time to generate the denominator at one hour using the EMR’s capabilities, which is surely a mistake since the EMR doesn’t help you count paper orders.
  • The CPOE requirement is generous to hospitals, which have been screwing around since the 1980s trying to get doctors to use CPOE with dismal results. They are required to hit only 10% CPOE usage since “CPOE is traditionally one of the last capabilities implemented at hospitals.” (like, decades after buying it?) Practices, most of them considering their first EMR in a quick ramp-up to earn HITECH money, need 80% usage right out of the gate. I expect changes here, too, with the hospital target raised and the practice one lowered.
  • With the minimal CPOE usage required for hospitals, the five required (and undefined) clinical decision support rules won’t have much impact on patient outcomes.
  • The report cites a pseudo-fact that, “Some vendors have estimated that EHRs could result in cost savings of between $100 and $200 per patient per year.” Vendors say a lot of things, but I believe only those that are enumerated in a contract, preferably with rewards or penalties to encourage backing up self-serving statements with risk. I’m not sure I would have included that stat.
  • The report used the high estimate of EHR cost from a range of $25,000 to $54,000 per provider, stating that “we believe the cost of such technology will be increasing.” Why should software costs increase when user bases are increasing, which should allow vendors to spread their fixed software development costs over more users? The only one factor that would raise the price is the vendor cost of complying with certification requirements (government meddling in free markets never comes free).
  • That higher upfront EMR cost makes the elusive $44K jackpot even less enticing. Doctors were already avoiding EMRs because of cost and negative workflow impact. Providers are questioning whether they can qualify for the incentives and whether they trust the government to pay them.
  • Conclusion: if you like the idea of having the government use taxpayer money to encourage the use of specific products in the pursuit of lofty and possibly unrelated goals, this at least pushes some theoretical behavior change in the users who choose to participate. If you’re a provider trying to decide whether the government money has too many strings attached, this might convince you that it does. And if you asked me how the odds of high EMR utilization changed with the release of these proposed requirements, I’d say they got worse.