The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act provides reimbursements to physicians who purchase and implement an Electronic Health Record (EHR). In order to participate in the program, physicians and EHR vendors must meet a set of requirements. You may have heard the term “meaningful use” in the news; it refers to a set of requirements for physicians and vendors. EHR vendors must provide certain functionality, and physicians must actually utilize the features in their practice.

Interoperability between different EHR systems is one of the main goals of meaningful use. Sharing patient data has many benefits, such as aiding clinical research, ensuring medical information is available as patients change providers, and adding to a knowledgebase which can help doctors with diagnostic and treatment issues. However, before EHR systems can share data, they must all speak the same language. Here is a brief look at some of the data standards proposed for inclusion in meaningful use:

SNOMED CT – Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine – Clinical Terms is a standardized medical vocabulary pertaining to most areas of clinical information. It offers a consistent way to access and store information across different specialties and practices. Meaningful use requires SNOMED for clinical problems and procedures.

LOINC – Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes – is the proposed meaningful use data standard used for identifying and recording laboratory observations and results.

RxNorm – is a standardized nomenclature for clinical drugs and delivery devices, and is the proposed standard for drug and medication allergies.

UCUM – The Unified Code for Units of Measure is a code system that includes all units of measure currently used in science, engineering, and business. It is designed to facilitate electronic communication and is proposed for meaningful use.

UNII – Unique Ingredient Identifier is an FDA standard designed to create a universal way to identify different ingredients found in drugs, biologics, food, and devices. Meaningful use will require UNII for tracking allergens.

Although these standards may seem arcane to physicians, they could determine whether or not a practice qualifies for the HITECH stimulus reimbursements. If you currently have an EHR, check with your vendor to see if they support these standards. If you have not yet purchased an EHR, be sure to ask the vendor if they support these standards. Remember, qualified professionals can receive $66,000 under Medicaid, and up to $44,000 under Medicare. The reimbursements start in 2011, so physicians should purchase an EHR soon to qualify in time.

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Ryan Ricks

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