The Meaning Behind Meaningful Use

There' s been a lot of talk and focus on the Meaningful Use provisions of the HITECH Act. I worry that we're becoming too focused on the details of Meaningful Use, and losing the bigger picture.

The government instituted the Meaningful Use criteria and incentives because they believe that electronic medical records can improve quality of care and access to care – but only if the EMR solutions are actually deployed and used. Hence Meaningful Use.

But if you focus solely on the Meaningful Use criteria and the monetary incentives, you may be selling your organization short on the real benefits of health information technology. There's a real risk that the incentives designed to encourage EMR adoption will stifle innovation and potentially thwart its impact.

The real and enduring incentive for adopting electronic health records and EMR technology is improving the quality and efficiency of care. Technology is merely a tool to reach these objectives, not a solution itself.

Any EMR initiative should start with your own clinical and financial objectives. These goals will vary based on your organization, capabilities, and even the community you're serving. Only with these goals established can you determine the technological solutions that will help you get there.

The Meaningful Use criteria and incentives are very effective as a change agent – waking us up to the need to take action now. But I'd suggest that you consider them as guidelines, not a roadmap.