That was pretty much the situation on Monday, April 18. It was the day the federal Department of Health and Human Services opened the process for physicians to attest to demonstrating Meaningful Use of an electronic health record (EHR) system, so they could qualify to receive Medicare incentive payments.
Once highly anticipated, the day passed almost unnoticed. Of the estimated 95,000 physicians now using an EHR system, a mere 150 stepped forward to say they had achieved Phase 1 Meaningful Use measures.
How did this happen?
It’s not that demonstrating Meaningful Use is too difficult. It doesn’t have to be. Douglas Foreman, D.O., one of those 150 physicians, exceeded the requirements in the first 90 day eligibility period. First and foremost, Foreman was able to do so thanks to the commitment of his entire practice to patients and to meeting the core and menu-set requirements. Additionally, a decision Foreman made to use a cloud-based practice management and EHR system, Ingenix CareTracker, gave him a real head start.
The term “cloud computing” may be a recent entry to the health IT lexicon, but the concept has been around and in use for a while. Cloud-based systems don’t require client-server hardware or that physicians install special software on each computer in their practice. They deliver advanced health IT capabilities through a simple, yet secure, Web browser-based solution. System maintenance and upgrades are included in a monthly subscription rate, and delivered automatically and seamlessly.
Using the “cloud,” Foreman received his technology upgrade to support Meaningful Use on a Saturday, about a year ago. Within days, he could see how it supported both his efforts to achieve the metrics required for demonstrating Meaningful Use, and contributed to his ability to improve patient care.
Foreman’s success offers a clear example for physicians to who might consider cloud-based technologies for their health IT systems. Foreman will receive his first payment soon. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of other EHR users are still waiting for their health IT vendor to get around to upgrading systems. As those vendors know, meeting that demand is can be challenging, especially if you are dealing with a system that is difficult and costly to upgrade.
Physicians currently shopping for an EHR system should ask a couple questions. If it’s this difficult for companies with client-server and application-service provider technologies to enable their current clients to meet Phase 1 Meaningful Use requirements, how will they fare in preparing even more users for Phase 2 in 2013, and Phase 3 in 2015? And, can they realistically support ICD-10 and future regulatory changes that require updates to their software?
Meaningful Use is just one stop on a long ride of technology advancement. As such, the “case for the cloud” is clear:
- Minimum up-front investment, lower total cost of ownership and rapid ROI
- Automatic interoperability with a wealth of systems and health industry partners
- Adaptability to future demands, from ICD-10 to new meaningful use rules to capabilities for meeting future performance measurement and reporting requirements
When it comes to demonstrating Meaningful Use, if we focus not on technology but on the needs to those who need to use it – physicians, nurses, and office administrators – it occurs to me that the silver lining just may be “the cloud” itself.
About the author: Russ Keene is vice president and a founder of the Ingenix CareTracker solutions business at Ingenix (soon to be OptumInsight). Russ has more than 25 years of experience with providing clinicians with health information and technology solutions , overseeing the development of cloud-based physician practice management and electronic health records systems.