Big year ahead for meaningful use

By Bernie Monegain
02:46 PM

How many hospitals and how many care providers have achieved Stage 1 meaningful use and received government incentive payments for having done so, depends on how you count. Should you include those who filed under the Medicaid program as well as those who filed under Medicare?

To receive Stage 1 payments under Medicaid is easier. There is no requirement to prove meaningful use for Stage 1. So many organizations that plan to attest to meaningful use for both Medicaid and Medicare, have already qualified under Medicaid, but are taking more time to get their ducks in a row before attesting on the Medicare side.

If you count hospitals that have received payments under both Medicare and Medicaid, the tally is 1,647. If you count those on the Medicare side alone, the number is 604.

As for eligible professionals – doctors, nurse practitioners and others – 15,255 collected on the Medicare side. Another 14,089 received payments under Medicaid.

The numbers are higher, of course, when you count Medicare and Medicaid payments together. That is how the Office of the National Coordinator presents the numbers.

Sure, there may have been some talk among government officials about how to put the numbers in the best light.

ONC chief Farzad Mostashari uses the total numbers of Medicare and Medicaid recipients: 1,647 for hospitals, and 29,344 for eligible providers.

And, why not?

Some argue that since Medicaid incentives do not require applicants to show meaningful use of EHRs in the first year, including the number as evidence of program success skews reality.

We say, the numbers are there – on the CMS site – to slice and dice and interpret every which way.

Though, the number of meaningful use achievers by year end 2011 might have been disappointing to some, we see is as a solid start and predict it will grow in a big way over the next year.

Rick Schooler, CIO, of Orlando Health, and the John E. Gall, CIO of the Year for 2011, told Healthcare IT News that Orlando Health plans to attest for Stage 1 in April this year. For Orlando Health, which has seven hospitals, it’s the right pace, he said. Many hospitals of significant size are taking a similar approach, Schooler added.

As we see it, Orlando Health and other hospitals – and eligible professionals – who did not attest and receive payments for Stage 1 by December 2011, will show up among the 2012 numbers, turning next year into a banner year for Stage 1.

It will not occur without challenges, particularly among the small resource-strapped hospitals and physician practices, but the CIOs we’ve talked with are clearly onboard – like Schooler, preparing to attest for Stage 1, while keeping an eye on Stage 2 requirements, which were expected to be released before HIMSS12, Feb. 20-24.

No matter how you count the participants so far, the meaningful use program emerges a success, it seems to us. Without it, where would healthcare be today? The march toward an electronic system would have advanced, but at a substantially slower pace. Perhaps agonizingly slow.

Meaningful use – and HITECH programs like SHARP and Beacon Communities, RECS and more –have managed to budge a hulk called healthcare toward the digital age. The move has gained more momentum than ever before, more than could have been imagined just 10 years ago.

“What you can’t do is say ‘I can’t make it in 2011,’ and throw up your hands, and say, ‘well, there you go,’ John Glaser said in an interview two years ago, after he finished his stint as adviser to the ONC.

Glaser, CEO of Siemens Health Services Business Unit, suggested providers would have to ask themselves what it would take to be there in 2012, 2013 or 2015 – and then move forward in a prudent way.

His advice was excellent then and now.

As for the numbers, count them for yourself. Watch for strides toward meaningful use in 2012. It won’t be the finish line, but it will be progress – and it’s overdue.