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Stale jokes about physician’s handwriting aside, the truth is that both patients and doctors benefit when providers shift from the traditional pen & paper note-taking to keeping electronic records. Not only do you cut down on misreadings and miscommunications, but electronic health records (or EHRs) also allow for secure, centralized storage of information, quick transfer of patient info between providers and easier prescription filings. 

That’s why the government has encouraged — and now requires — providers to make the shift to filing patient records electronically. Providers taking part in the Medicare EHR programs were incentivized with up to $44,000 in financial support, while participation in the Medicaid EHR program could net you financial support of up to $63,750 over 6 years.

Clearly, the switch to electronic health records benefits everyone. But in order for EHR systems to be effective, providers need to use the software frequently enough to offer a significant benefit. That’s where meaningful use comes in — using EHRs often enough, and efficiently enough, to offer a meaningful benefit. 

But what exactly is meaningful use? 

The standards for meaningful use are set by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, also called the CMS. The CMS created programs for using EHRs with both Medicare and Medicaid in 2011, and, over the past several years, they’ve refined the criteria for meaningful use and transitioned from suggesting that providers and hospitals use EHR software to requiring it. 

What are the standards for meaningful use?  

While the specific standards and benchmarks for meaningful use vary depending on whether you’re registered as a provider or a hospital, as well as the size and focus of your practice, the program requirements touch on several common themes:  

1. Use Certified Software

All providers and hospitals have to use software that meets industry standards set by the CMS. Providers have to use EHR software certified to the 2014 edition, and may use software certified to the 2015 edition (or some combination of the two). 

2. Store Patient Information Securely

Providers and hospitals need to use software that meets certain encryption and security standards and conduct security assessments to make sure their patients’ information is secure.  

3. Create and File Prescriptions Electronically

Providers should file and transmit prescriptions electronically using compliant software (eRx).

4. Computerize Provider Order Entry

Providers and hospitals should order laboratory, medication, diagnostic imaging or other test or treatment orders electronically.

5. Use Clinical Decision Support

Providers should utilize the software’s knowledge base for recommendations to support your treatment decisions, and enable drug-drug and drug-allergy interaction checks in your software.

6. Exchange Health Records Electronically

Providers must an electronic summary of care to a new provider anytime you transfer care or make a referral. You should also import or create an electronic summary of care with new patients and incorporate summary of care information from other providers into your electronic records.  

7. Allow Patients Electronic Access to Records

Providers and hospitals need to have a system in place that allows patients to view and download their medical information online. This info should be available within four business days of you receiving the information.  

8. Coordinate Care Electronically

Patients or authorized representatives should be able to contact you securely via electronic messaging (for example, via email) to relay health information and relay information about the patient’s care.  

9. Share Public Health Information

Providers should share electronic health information with a relevant public health agency — for example, sharing immunization records.  

While the specific benchmarks for eligible providers and hospitals are laid out in detail on the CMS’ website, so you can easily find the benchmarks you’ll need to hit.

Got it. So what is meaningful use attestation?

At its core, meaningful use attestation is simple — It means attesting that you’ve used electronic health records meaningfully. In other words, you’re confirming that you’ve met or exceeded the standards for meaningful use.  

In 2017, providers were required to start using the Quality Payment Program for meaningful use attestation for Medicare. And for 2018, all eligible providers and hospitals need to meet the stage 3 program requirements for the Medicaid EHR program. 

If this is your first year using the Merit-based Incentive Payment System in the Quality Payment Program, you’ll be reporting your 2017 performance by March 31, 2018. And if you’re starting Phase 3 participation in the Medicaid EHR program in 2018, you’ll attest in the spring of 2019. 

The benefits of attesting are many. For one, you’ll be meeting the CMS’ requirements for providers to use EHRs, so you’ll be complying with the law. You’ll also avoid a potentially hefty penalty for attesting, since providers who don’t participate in the EHR program could find their Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements cut by up to 5% in the coming years. 

While you should already be up to speed on reporting Medicare EHR program compliance, you may be new to meaningful use attestation for Medicaid. For 2018, providers with a history in the program will have to report their compliance with the Medicaid EHR program for the full calendar year, while first-timers will have to report for at least 90 consecutive days. 

How do I attest to meaningful use?

If it’s your first time attesting, fear not — the electronic process is likely not as intimidating as you think. 

The first thing you’ll need to do is register and get your login credentials on Medicare & Medicaid EHR Incentive Program Registration & Attestation System. Once you’re in the system, you’ll need to provide some basic information about your practice.

During attestation, the portal will bring up relevant questionnaires and you’ll be able to enter your performance information to demonstrate that you met the benchmarks for the meaningful use objectives listed above. Once you submit your information, you’ll be able to see if your attestation was accepted — and re-submit any information that was rejected. 

If you’re new to the process, consider filling out the relevant worksheet first. The worksheet lays out exactly which targets you need to hit — and helps you ensure that you have all the relevant info on hand when you go to attest for easier data entry.

But if the thought of attesting on your own makes your head spin, consider hiring an authorized third party to guide you through the process. Like a tax professional, an expert can file information on your behalf and answer any questions you may have so you can focus on using the technology that benefits your patients — instead of spending your time reporting on it. 

Looking for more information?

These resources on the CMS’ website can guide you through attesting: 

Eligible Provider Attestation User Guide

EHR Incentive Program FAQ

Registration & Attestation Information

2017 Program Requirements

EHR Incentive Program Educational Materials

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