Healthcare IT chief takes on meaning of 'meaningful'

In an open letter e-mailed Thursday, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology David Blumenthal discusses what the government means when it refers to the "meaningful use of electronic health records."

The term "meaningful use" has been the subject of much discussion since the federal government tied it into eligibility for incentive payments aimed at promoting the uptake of healthcare information technology.

The federal Health IT Policy Committee has provided recommendations to the Office of the National Coordinator regarding what makes up meaningful use. But the formal definition will come from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is slated to publish a definition by Dec. 31.

"The concept of meaningful use is simple and inspiring, but we recognize that it becomes significantly more complex at a policy and regulatory level," Blumenthal wrote.

He also addressed what healthcare providers can do to move toward meaningful use even without the formal definition.

The full text of the letter appears below.

"Meaningful" Progress Toward Electronic Health Information Exchange

A Message from Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology

I recently reported on our announcement of State Health Information Technology Grants and grants to establish Health Information Technology Regional Extension Centers, as authorized under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Recovery Act).

Today I want to discuss the important term "meaningful use" of electronic health records (EHRs) - both as a concept that underlies the movement toward an electronic health care environment and as a practical set of standards that will be issued as a proposed regulation by the end of 2009.

The HITECH Act provisions of the Recovery Act create a truly historic opportunity to transform our health system through unprecedented investments in the development of a nationwide electronic health information system.  This system will ultimately help facilitate, inform, measure, and sustain improvements in the quality, efficiency, and safety of health care available to every American.  Simply put, health professionals will be able to give better care, and their patients' experience of care will improve, leading to better health outcomes overall.

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