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Accelerating the transition to “Meaningful Use” of the electronic health record

EpicFor years, there has been broad agreement within the health care community about the clinical potential of the electronic health record (EHR). Despite this consensus, the health care industry as a whole has been slow to adopt these records beyond a few large institutions. Progress has been stymied by the large upfront costs of the technology, and by the technical challenge of implementing the technology in a coordinated system-wide way.

OHSU was an early-adopter of the EHR. In 2004, OHSU began to implement an EHR for both the ambulatory and inpatient settings and by 2008, all hospital and clinic sites had EHRs. Now, OHSU is gearing up to also participate in the new federal Meaningful Use program.

The five-year initiative is structured to encourage all hospitals and clinics across the nation to not only install EHR technology, as OHSU has done, but to also use it in ways that demonstrably improve patient care, lower costs, reduce errors and save lives; in other words, to use the technology “meaningfully.”

The premise motivating the federal incentive program is that transferring information from paper form into digital form will not alone capture the health care benefits of the EHR. The information and its use must be standardized and structured in uniform ways, just as ATMs, for example, depend on uniformly structured data. The Meaningful Use program is, thus, a path to establishing national and system-wide standardized uses of the EHR.

“The full transition to the electronic health record is not only a technology and work flow adjustment, it’s a cultural change in the health care system,” said Mark Richardson, MD, School of Medicine Dean and Faculty Practice Plan President. “This federal program will help OHSU, and other health entities throughout the country, to accelerate the transition so we maximize the benefits to our patients.”

The federal Meaningful Use program will unfold in three stages over the next five years; regulations associated with the first stage were finalized in July. Under the program, eligible health care professionals and hospitals will qualify for incentive payments when they meet two goals: 1) adopt certified EHR technology; and 2) demonstrate that they are using it to help meet the five health goals defined in the regulations:

1.    Improve quality, safety, efficiency and reduce health disparities
2.    Engage patients and family in their health care
3.    Improve care coordination
4.    Improve population and public health
5.    Ensure privacy and security for personal health information

The initiative identifies a suite of metrics to demonstrate Meaningful Use that hospitals and clinicians must meet. The Meaningful Use program is funded in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, or the "HITECH Act." As much as $27 billion has been allocated for incentive payments.

To learn more about the program, click here

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