The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 includes provisions to encourage physicians to adopt Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). The act pays $44,000 to physicians that adopt EMRs over five years. On the other hand, the act will penalize non-adopters by decreasing their Medicare reimbursements.

Physicians must meet three criteria to qualify for the incentives. “Eligible professionals” must use a “certified EMR” in a “meaningful way.” In my last article we discussed those who may be considered eligible. This time we will look at the meaningful use requirement.

Physicians must demonstrate meaningful use of their EMR software to qualify for stimulus payments. Otherwise, they might be tempted to purchase an EMR just so they can get stimulus money, without any real intent to use the system. Much like the requirements for a “certified EMR,” the specific details comprising meaningful use have not yet been written. However, the Act does specify three general guidelines: E-prescribing, electronic exchange of medical records, and interoperability of systems.

E-prescribing is the electronic transmission of prescription information to a pharmacy. In many ways it is more efficient than paper or faxed prescriptions. Electronic prescriptions avoid the pitfalls of illegible handwriting or difficult-to-read faxes. In addition, e-prescribing may offer drug interaction checking, which will make sure prescribed drugs will not produce dangerous side affects when taken together. However, e-prescribing systems can be painfully slow, and require physicians to perform double-data entry. Many pharmacies may not yet be connected to the main e-prescribe network. There are many EMR-integrated and stand-alone E-prescribing systems, some of which are free.

Electronic exchange of medical records means an EMR system can send electronic notes, charts, lab results, or any other medical document. Sending photocopies of charts through the mail or fax is slow and unreliable. Electronic exchange is a more efficient way to share data. Security is the only downside to electronic data exchange. EMRs must conform to HIPAA regulations to protect patient privacy. If your EMR can export data to Microsoft Word or PDF files, then you can easily exchange data electronically.

Interoperability of systems takes electronic exchange of medical records one step further. Rather than just exchanging data, interoperable systems should be able to import data from other systems and export data to other systems in a seamless manner. This will guarantee information is saved in a standard format that can benefit everyone. Security and privacy is also a concern with interoperability. Any EMR that can import and export data in HL7 or XML should satisfy this requirement.

These high-level “meaningful use” requirements are fair and should be easily supported by most EMR systems. Although each requirement faces some challenges, physicians looking to purchase an EMR should not delay. Rather they should start early so they have plenty of time to begin using their new EMR in a meaningful way.

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Ryan Ricks

Security Officer