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Meaningful use certification: Later rather than sooner

It’s probably no surprise that 80% of health care CIOs surveyed for a new PricewaterhouseCoopers report indicated they are concerned they will not achieve Stage 1 meaningful use certification of their facility’s electronic health records (EHR) in time to reap federal HITECH Act incentives.

The most common barriers to meaningful use identified by the CIOs in the survey include a shortage of skilled IT resources, the infrastructure requirements for meaningful use compliance and the EHR certification that will prove it, lack of vendor readiness, and bringing about behavioral change across the organization. Those barriers, plus the lack of clarity in the rules — the final version isn’t out as of this writing — have stalled implementation.

Yet these CIOs think that most of the investment for meaningful use compliance will be made in 2011. That could indicate that Stage 2 and Stage 3 compliance (which will roll out in 2013 and 2015, respectively) will require less capital outlay than Stage 1, even though these latter stages require more collaboration with outside entities, such as other providers and health care information exchanges.

The surprising finding? How insurers fit in. To achieve meaningful use compliance, health care providers are going to have to play well in the sandbox with payers — whom they don’t necessarily trust.

Only 6% of CIOs said meaningful use would improve alignment with health insurers over the next two years, and only 24% said it would improve alignment in the long term. Among the CIOs at academic medical centers polled, 81% said their organizations do not plan to work with health insurers at all or they do not know, compared with 47% of all respondents overall.

Despite that, among the early birds who feel their facilities are close to being ready to apply for certification and incentives, 87% are working with insurers already. That finding implies that to get to meaningful use, providers will have to hook up with insurers.

Other lessons these front-runners can teach the rest of the pack: To get to meaningful use faster, a provider needs to seek patient input (front-runners were three times as likely as the average respondent to have done this); and help its affiliated physicians get into compliance with meaningful use rules (63% of the early birds have done it).

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