Meaningfully Meeting Meaningful Use: The Necessity of Data Analytics

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As of January 2014, 4,477 hospitals had received a payment from CMS for their adoption and use of electronic health records. However, many of these organizations may not be fully realizing the benefits of the technology they're now using.

According to a survey conducted by Stoltenberg Consulting at HIMSS' annual conference in Orlando, Fla., in February, more than 70 percent of the 211 IT professionals surveyed said their hospital, health system or physician practice has successfully attested to meaningful use stage 1 but has not yet maximized the full potential of its EHR to improve care and workflow efficiencies.

The disparity could be in their approach to meaningful use. "Most of the organizations that reach meaningful use are going by the letter of the regulation and not by its spirit," says Shane Pilcher, vice president of Stoltenberg Consulting. "If you approach the project as checking off boxes, you'll meet the regulations but never really get to what the regulations are trying to bring about."

Meaningful use attestation and the adoption of health IT generally should be about more than going paperless, says Mr. Pilcher. Using EHRs and other products inherently means more patient data will be more readily available, and to get the most of the technology that information has to be used to improve care and operational efficiencies.

"For example, you could start pushing notifications to physicians once they're in the [EHR] system, and notify them if new lab results might suggest a patient is going down a bad road," says Mr. Pilcher. Doing so would be taking full advantage of an EHR's ability to present data from another part of the hospital in real-time, allowing a physician to act more quickly and improve patient outcomes.

"Just getting a physician in front of a computer isn't enough," says Mr. Pilcher. "You have to get all the functionality out of the application and drive [the physicians] with information to help them better understand what's going on with their patients."

However, getting the full utility out of EHRs requires time and resources, of which the survey respondents reported having little. Half of those surveyed said a lack of resources, including money, IT skills and time was their largest barrier to meaningful use, and 23 percent said it was meaningful use's restricted timeframe.

Additionally, many hospitals and health systems do not have the time or employees to begin to turn EHR data into the kind of actionable information that could improve patient care. In the survey, 40 percent of respondents said, generally, healthcare organizations and their employees don't know how to use available data and 23 percent said other initiatives, such as the ICD-10 transition or meaningful use itself, is taking precedence over big data initiatives.

To the hospitals struggling with EHR implementation and meaningful use, Mr. Pilcher emphasizes the need to take a long-term view of health IT adoption. Attestation should not be the end of the road.

"What I always tell my clients is that meaningful use is not a sprint, it's a marathon," he says. "You've got to be in it for the long haul, and be able to pace yourself… and be ready to go further than you have to in order to get that return on the time and resources invested."

More Articles on Meaningful Use:

ONC's Free Population Health Software Now 2014 Edition Certified
AHRQ Helping to Evaluate Proposed MU3 Criteria
Hospitals' Predicted ROI for MU2: 9 Statistics

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