June 2009 | www.healthmgttech.com | Issue 6
Health Management Technology

Meaningful Use: Beyond Clinical Outcomes

The promises of ARRA hinge on the government's definition of a key phrase embedded in the legislation.

By Geoff Smyth

The water cooler debate about what was said - and not said - in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has healthcare stakeholders buzzing. Leading healthcare IT organizations such as CHIME and HIMSS have released their official recommendations and interpretations of what "meaningful use" could mean as potential economic incentive applicants mull over their next steps.

The meaningful use definition most likely will include: 1) an improvement in patient outcomes; 2) an exchange of electronic health information to help realize this goal; and 3) documentation and submission of performance metrics, including clinical quality measures, to be indicated by the secretary of HHS.

Clinical outcomes, however, which are supported by the patient data exchange and documentation of performance metrics, represent only half of the equation. Financial outcomes make up the second half. Healthcare's strength - and weakness - has been its idealistic focus on patient care, to the exclusion of the business aspects of healthcare that ensure long-term sustainability and, thus, the ability to continue providing the best in patient care.

Even in an expanding economy, the operational efficiencies gained from processes such as revenue-cycle management enable clinicians to streamline work flows with accurate, speedy coding, resulting in more time for patient interactions, as well as faster, complete reimbursement. Accurate coding also provides a vital database for generating the care metrics requested by the ARRA.

The overarching goal is to see patient care improved through the effective use of healthcare technology. Stakeholders understand that the various technologies need to interoperate to facilitate secure exchange of healthcare information, both clinical and financial. The patient data must be accurate, timely, accessible - and meaningful.

Meaningful use of healthcare technology will deliver real-time access to patient data to aid clinical decision making, improve patient outcomes and generate positive financial outcomes for healthcare providers. This data should be accurate, complete and organized in a manner that enables analysis of patient treatments and associated outcomes; performance metrics to improve transparency in quality and pricing; and business metrics to support the livelihood of the healthcare industry.

Geoff Smyth is the president of the healthcare services division of e4e, Santa Clara, Calif.