What is Meaningful Use?

Meaningful Use Definition

In the most simplistic definition, Meaningful Use means that healthcare clinicians are required to show that the certified EHR technology they are using is being used in ways that can be significantly measured from both a quality and a quantity standpoint. The use of the EHR technology then becomes meaningful, hence the term.

According to the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, there are three main components that need to be present in Meaningful Use. These are:

  • Using certified EHR in a meaningful manner.
  • Exchanging health information electronically in a way that improves the quality of care.
  • Using certified EHR to submit clinical quality and other measures.

A final rule on Meaningful Use was published by The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in July of 2010. That rule established that there were three phases to the EHR Incentive Program.

Stages of Meaningful Use

Having the three stages of Meaningful Use is an effort to ensure that EHR is implemented and used in ways that allow hospitals and eligible clincians to improve the healthcare system of the nation. These improvements will be seen in both quality and safety.

  • Stage 1: Data capture and sharing
  • Stage 2: Advanced clinical processes
  • Stage 3: Improved outcomes

Meaningful Use Timeline

The program has a timetable, in that Medicare will require every eligible hospital and medical professional to meet Meaningful Use guidelines after 2015. If they fail to do this, they can be subject to financial penalties. Those hospitals and other professionals that are Medicaid eligible and participating in the EHR Incentive Program can upgrade within the first year, and still receive the incentive payments.

To do this, they must adopt, implement, or upgrade to an electronic healthcare system. To continue receiving payments after the first year, every eligible provider must meet Meaningful Use criteria. The goal of Meaningful Use is not the use of EHRs, specifically, but the proper use of EHRs to advance patient care and make medical care more efficient. Incentives and assistance programs are designed to bring more hospitals and medical professionals on board, thus creating a better overall healthcare system.

This can improve the quality of care that patients receive, reduce medical mistakes, and allow for discussion and information sharing among physicians and hospitals. In turn, the ability to do this will become measurable, allowing for a determination of what is working, what is not, and what needs to be changed. Meaningful Use has the opportunity to help revolutionize healthcare and change it for the betterment and benefit of all involved.

Stage of Meaningful Use Criteria by First Payment Year
Stage of Meaningful Use
  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
2011 1 1 1 *1 or 2 2 2 3 3 TBD TBD TBD
2012   1 1 *1 or 2 2 2 3 3 TBD TBD TBD
2013     1 *1 2 2 3 3 TBD TBD TBD
2014       *1 1 2 2 3 3 TBD TBD
2015         1 1 2 2 3 3 TBD
2016           1 1 2 2 3 3
2017             1 1 2 2 3

*3 month quarter EHR reporting period for Medicare and continuous 90-day EHR reporting period (or 3 months at State option) for Medicaid EPs.


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