Texas Health Resources CMIO tells how the system earned $19M for Stage 1

Ferdinand Velasco, MD

Texas Health Resources received more than $19.5 million in Medicare incentive payments at the end of May for meeting first stage meaningful use. But according to Ferdinand Velasco, MD, vice president and CMIO, the heath system didn’t do it for the money.

Velasco said Texas Health invested more than $200 million in its EHR adoption, which began in 2006 and involved more than 4.7 million electronic patient records.

“We didn’t undertake EHR adoption because of HITECH,” he told Healthcare IT News. “As an organization, we thought it was the right thing to do, and critical to advancing our health system as a high quality care organization. It just so happened that our trajectory aligned with federal incentives.”

Texas Health Resources is one of the first health systems nationwide to receive incentives, with 11 of its hospitals achieving meaningful use Stage 1. Currently physician CPOE adoption rate is approximately 90 percent, Velasco said.

[See also: ACOs and meaningful use to go hand in hand.]

Align with "signals" before MU regulations come out

Velasco said one of the keys to qualifying so early was closely following the signals coming out of the Health IT Policy Committee and the Centers for Medicare (CMS) and Medicaid Services, to anticipate what would be included in Stage 1 requirements. The hospital then began striving to align with those requirements in advance.

Velasco said achieving meaningful use Stage 1 was not difficult with the way Texas Health approached it. “Last year was mainly about crossing the Ts and dotting the I’s,” he said.

To start, the health system established a steering committee of various disciplines to champion the EHR adoption, Velasco said.

The health system then hired a dedicated project manager to go over meaningful use requirements. “We were very intimately familiar with the regulation,” he said, “However some things were not entirely clear.” That’s why it was important to closely follow the guidance coming out of CMS, various federal webinars and FAQ webpages. Texas Health also worked very closely with its vendor.

Get doctor buy-in on problem list

According to Velasco, the most difficult part of achieving MU was getting doctors to buy in to keeping a patient problem list. “It’s a relatively new concept, particularly in community healthcare,” he said.