What Is Meaningful Use and Why Is It Important?

A term you’ve likely heard while researching the transition to electronic health records (EHR) is meaningful use. It’s a phrase thrown around fairly frequently when discussing EHR, ever since it’s introduction in relation to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Incentive for Meaningful Use of an EHR. Let’s go over what Meaningful Use is, how to obtain it and why it’s important.

What Is Meaningful Use?

Meaningful Use is a term defined in The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. It is defined as using EHR in a way that substantially improves the delivery of healthcare, and it has three components:

1. Using EHR in a meaningful way, such as ePrescribing

2. Using EHR technology to electronically exchange health information in order to improve the quality of healthcare

3. Using EHR technology to report clinical quality and other measures

Additionally, Meaningful Use must be measurable in both quality and quantity, so each objective has a measurement that is reported to CMS.

How to Achieve Meaningful Use: The Criteria

The criteria for determining whether a provider is meeting the definition of Meaningful Use will change based on the stage of adoption. CMS is rolling out the criteria in three stages. Stage 1, in effect from 2011-2013, establishes the foundation for capturing electronic data and information sharing. The criteria for stages two and three are still to be determined.

Physician Using Touch TabletStage 1 includes a core set and a menu set of objectives. Eligible professionals must meet the 15 core objectives, plus five chosen from the menu set of objectives. One example of a required objective is providing patients with an electronic copy of their health information. A menu example includes incorporating test results into the EHR. For the complete list, check out our Meaningful Use Criteria page.

Hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) must meet 14 core objectives and five chosen from the menu. Required objectives include the ability to exchange key clinical information between all healthcare providers and with the patient. Menu objectives include recording advance directives for patients over age 65.

Clinical Quality Measurements (CQMs) are a notable required objective. Eligible professionals must meet three required CQMs plus three from a menu of 38, for a total of six. Hospitals and CAHs must meet 15 required CQMs.

Under the Medicaid incentive program, providers and hospitals are considered compliant if in their first year of participation they acquire and install EHR certified technology, begin to use an EHR system, upgrade their current system to meet EHR certification requirements or demonstrate Meaningful Use. Then they must demonstrate Meaningful Use for each successive year they participate.

ONC-ATCB Certified Complete EHR SealWhy Is Using Certified Technology Important?

Using software that has received EHR certification is important because it guarantees specific safeguards. It protects the confidentiality of patient information, makes sure the data is secure, provides a standard way of entering information so it can be shared between providers and ensures a consistent way of recording data for the CQMs. You also have to use ONC-ATCB Certified software in order to qualify for the Meaningful Use incentives.

Why Use an EHR in a Meaningful Way?

The benefits of using an EHR in a meaningful way include reduction in errors, the availability of records and data, better patient engagement through the ability to send reminders and alerts, clinical decision support tools to identify patients for follow-up and simplified medication prescribing. In addition, healthcare providers who demonstrate that they are using an EHR in a measurable way may qualify for significant federal financial incentives.


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