As the battle in defining the term ‘meaningful use’ continues, another war on words has come to light. The American Hospital Association is reporting that a group of 43 hospitals and health systems have collectively sent a letter to Federal officials, urging them to better define certain terms under ARRA and the HITECH Act to maximize the number of medical providers that will be eligible for health IT incentive payments.

This group conveys a valid point in their letter: “Bearing in mind that the purpose of ARRA is to encourage the adoption and use of electronic health records, we would like to comment on the definition of a hospital and the definition of a hospital-based physician, both of which are key to ensuring that incentives are available to the greatest number of hospitals and physicians.”

Last week, the letter was sent to Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Tony Trenkle, Director of the Office of e-Health Standards and Services Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. This letter detailed concerns about the neglect to define ‘hospital,’ and suggested that officials define a “hospital” as a “discrete site of service” so that a health system’s individual campuses each can apply for the incentive payments separately.

It was also suggested that officials consider redefining the term “hospital-based physician.” As it stands now, the law defines hospital-based physicians as those individuals who furnish substantially all of their services in a hospital setting using the facilities and equipment, including the EHR, of the hospital. In the letter, the group states they “…are concerned that broad regulatory interpretation of this hospital-based physician definition may inappropriately exclude physicians practicing in outpatient centers and provider-based clinics merely because their office or clinic is located in a facility owned by the hospital, so doctors who practice in hospital-owned outpatient clinics can apply for the incentive payments.”

From California to New York, the list of 43 hospital systems that ‘signed’ the letter sends a major message: this is a serious matter that deserves recognition and clarification. If ARRA and the HITECH Act are to achieve established goals and objectives, Federal officials may need to more closely examine and define the terminology that will guide and enforce important policy that is intended to lead widespread EHR adoption in the U.S.

Click here for more information and a link to the original letter.