With fall officially setting in and families and businesses finding their post-summer groove again, it’s time to seriously start preparing for next year. Just over a year separates us from the ICD-10 compliance deadline, and in a short period of three months meaningful use will change, and not just for those moving on to stage 2.

The meaningful use changes are necessary to ensure that health IT is mature enough to drastically improve healthcare. Specifically, here are four ways meaningful use will be different next year.

1. Certification
The biggest change facing meaningful users is certification. Starting next year, all eligible professionals (EPs) will be required to use a 2014 Edition EHR, regardless of what meaningful use stage they are on. The new certification supports all stages of meaningful use and includes important updates that will set the ground rules for interoperability and patient engagement. 2011 Edition certification will expire at the end of this year.

Because of the certification changes, it is crucial that you check with your EHR vendor today to ensure they are on track to re-certify. There are still many vendors that haven’t certified yet, and some will not be able to meet the new requirements. There is still plenty of time to process software upgrades, but your EHR vendor should be well on its way to certification by now.

2. Reporting period
Many EHR vendors have already re-certified, but to accommodate as many EPs as possible, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) has changed the reporting requirements slightly. Normally, EPs are required to report for 90 days the first year they attest to meaningful use and for 365 days each year after, but in 2014 all EPs are only required to attest for 90 days. (In other words, EPs won’t have to begin attesting until October.) This will give EHR vendors and EPs more time to process updates and ensure software is working correctly.

That being said, plan to begin reporting by mid-2014 if you can. You never know what hiccups you may encounter, so it’s best to stay ahead of the timeline whenever possible.

3. Core and menu objective
Certain objectives for both stage 1 and stage 2 have been combined or eliminated. Furthermore, EPs can no longer count exclusions toward meeting menu objectives. More details on these changes are available here.

4. Incentives/penalties
If you haven’t started meaningful use yet, 2014 is the last year you can qualify for incentives (up to $24,000 per provider, $44,000 if you started sooner). Once 2015 hits, 1 percent Medicare payment adjustments will hit all eligible physicians who haven’t attested to meaningful use. Those who have already met meaningful use will continue to collect incentive checks as long as they continue to attest successfully.

Just over half of the allotted funds for meaningful use have been paid out to physicians from a variety of specialties (including orthopedics and ENT). The government will continue to issue incentive checks on a first-come, first-serve basis until the money is gone.

Unfortunately, most of these changes won’t make meaningful use easier, which means preparing now is vitally important to future success. To prepare for these changes, first evaluate what you’ve already learned from your meaningful use experience and make a list of what worked and what you would do differently. Then make sure you understand the differences between 2011 and 2014 requirements as well. And finally, give yourself adequate time to test the new software once it’s been re-certified.

The government is serious about moving forward aggressively with meaningful use, as it is the best way to reach “futuristic” goals regarding health IT. Contact your vendor today if you have any questions regarding meaningful use or certification.