Buzzword of the Week: Meaningful Use

I hate buzzwords.  Especially those in healthcare.  Phrases like patient satisfaction, Press Ganey, patient safety and meaningful use make me cringe.  When spoken by administrators these words usually indicate a slough of paperwork is about to follow and more mundane rules and regulations are about to overtake my work day.

These healthcare buzzwords make working in a hospital or large healthcare system feel daunting, overwhelming and political.  Whenever I hear one of these words I immediately feel bogged down.  Please, please don't add any more checkboxes to my charting system. The font on our paper charts has gotten gradually smaller and smaller to accommodate documenting for concerns like patient safety.  Don't think I haven't noticed.  And no, I don't have time to fill out any additional paperwork.

While healthcare buzzwords make me want to cringe, vomit, throw my pen on the desk and declare my retirement, I suppose they may be necessary.  Hospitals and other healthcare providers do need systems in place to ensure patient safety, you can't blame them.  So, I've taken up the task of writing a new column, "Buzzword of the Week".  I hope that by understanding these concepts better, I might not get so annoyed at administration and can hopefully avoid dry heaving the next time my boss tells me he wants to "review core measures".

Lately when reading medical news and opinion sites I've heard a lot about "Meaningful Use".  What exactly is Meaningful Use and how does it affect your life as a nurse practitioner?

What is "Meaningful Use"?

In 2009, Congress and Obama passed a law called The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH- gotta love the acronym).  This law provides incentives for hospitals and clinics to transition from paper-based documentation to electronic health records (EHRs).  Each clinician can receive a bonus of up to $63,750 though Medicaid or $44,000 through Medicare by complying with HITECH's standards.  

But, the government doesn't want healthcare providers simply to purchase EHR systems, they want them to use them.  And, they want providers to use these systems in a way that helps provide better patient care (there I go with the annoying buzzwords).  The government has outlined a set of standards to govern the use of electronic health records within this incentive system.  This is what is referred to as "Meaningful Use".  

How is Meaningful Use Legislation Implemented?

Meaningful Use guidelines are in the process of being implemented in three phases. You don't need to know these phases in detail unless you are in an administrative roll or are responsible for compliance to legislation for your clinic or hospital.  

Essentially, there are three stages of Meaningful Use legislation.  Stage 1, the deadline for which has already passed, requires that healthcare facilities use electronic health records and that they meet a minimal set of requirements if they want to receive incentive payments.  Stage 2 which is required by 2014 involves more rigorous guidelines such as the ability of an EHR system to exchange data with other healthcare facilities.  Stage 3 of Meaningful Use focuses on implementing EHR systems that improve quality and safety of patient care. 

Why Do Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants Care about Meaningful Use?

Bored of this buzzword?  Here's the takeaway so read up.  

While you are probably not responsible for implementing Meaningful Use legislation in your clinic or hospital, you are probably knowingly or unknowingly responsible for adhering to it.  Your employer stands to get a fat incentive check if they meet Meaningful Use standards and most intend to do so.  You're the one doing the documentation in the EHR so they need your participation.

This means that your employer will be increasingly switching documentation and other paper work from, well, paper to the computer.  No big deal.  This is after all the year 2013.  Within the electronic health record system your employer has selected they will get picky about your documentation.  It will be important for you to be precise and adhere to guidelines your employer gives even if they seem trivial.  Missing a few check boxes here and there could cost them a lot of money.

Transitioning to a more computer-based system is notoriously difficult in healthcare. We're stuck in our ways.  Extensive government regulations like Meaningful Use don't help the transition because they make the process even more cumbersome.  However, it is time that healthcare systems digitalize their patient data and Meaningful Use incentives are likely to get employers more up to date with their technologies. 

Is there a healthcare buzzword you hate?  Or, maybe one you actually want to know more about?  Comment below to see your word featured on "Buzzword of the Week".