What is 'meaningful use?'

A federal advisory panel is tweaking its proposed definition of health information technology to address various gaps and concerns. The definition is important because the 2009 economic stimulus law provides funding only for health care providers who make "meaningful use" of electronic health records.

The Health IT Policy Committee is considering a three-tiered framework for defining and setting benchmarks for meaningful use of health IT based on recommendations from one of the committee’s workgroups. Congress mandated the creation of the policy committee to help develop criteria for health IT adoption and certification under the economic stimulus law. The policy committee will advise the national coordinator for health IT, who will forward ideas to the Health and Human Services Department for use in a rule-making process later this year.

The workgroup proposed that meaningful use be linked to outcomes such as reducing by half the number of preventable hospitalizations, medication errors and racial disparities in diabetes control by 2015. Other suggested goals were preventing 1 million heart attacks and strokes and providing patients with access to electronic health records.

The proposed framework would include criteria for capturing and sharing data starting in 2011. Next, in 2013, providers would have to begin using the data to establish care processes that increase success. Then they would have to measure their progress and meet their outcome goals by 2015.

Some committee members raised concerns about the framework.

Christine Bechtel, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said patients need to be able to use their records to improve care, not just obtain access. “Access is not an outcome,” she said.

Setting privacy and security of patient electronic records as an explicit outcome in 2015 would reinforce those goals, said Roger Baker, chief information officer at the Veterans Affairs Department. “Having privacy and security as part of the vision is key,” he said.

The policy committee will accept public comments on the preliminary definition of meaningful use until June 26 and will discuss it further at the panel’s next meeting, on July 16.

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