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Beyond EHRs: What Is “Meaningful Use” and How Can It Help Your Facility?


You may have heard the phrase “meaningful use” floating around the healthcare industry as of late. The term is actually a part of the American Reinvestment & Recovery Act (ARRA), which was passed back in early 2009. The law is designed to modernize the country’s entire ailing infrastructure, including the healthcare industry.

As part of this effort, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a program to incentivize healthcare professionals to adopt the latest technology – namely, electronic health records (EHRs). CMS will reward facilities that can prove they are using electronic health records in meaningful ways and that this technology is ultimately benefiting their patients.

However, the term “meaningful use” doesn’t just apply to EHRs. You can use it to monitor the success of virtually every aspect of your facility. Let’s take a closer look at what this term means and how it can help you achieve your healthcare goals.

Defining “Meaningful Use”

The federal government has been adamant about modernizing the country’s healthcare system. One of its biggest efforts has centered on interoperability and digital communication, so different providers can easily share personal health information with their patients and other healthcare professionals.

While this new program is entirely voluntary, providers will now receive an EHR incentive payment if they can prove they are putting these new electronic records systems to “meaningful use,” according to the guidelines set by CMS.

According to the CDC, these EHR incentive payments can range from $44,000 over five years for Medicare providers to $63,750 over six years for Medicaid providers. Providers can also reduce certain Medicare/Medicaid fees by participating in the program.

To prove “meaningful use”, providers must show that their EHR system is improving the quality of care their patients receive. Providers must choose a certified EHR provider to qualify. They must also use this technology in meaningful ways, such as for electronic prescriptions, improving care coordination between providers, and improving the overall health of the public.

The CMS will then score providers based on their use of this technology. The better the results, the more money providers will receive from the federal government.

How “Meaningful Use” Applies to the Rest of Your Facility

According to the CDC, the term “meaningful use” rests on the following performance indicators:

  • Improving quality, safety, efficiency, and reducing health disparities
  • Engage patients and families in their health
  • Improve care coordination
  • Improve population and public health
  • Ensure adequate privacy and security protection for personal health information

As you can see, each pillar represents an important aspect of your facility. As changes in your facility meet the performance indicators listed above, they will then be deemed to have “meaningful use”.

Whenever you and your team decide to invest in new technology, adjust routine processes, or make changes to your facility, you can reflect on these changes in much the same way you would if you were applying for an incentive payment from CMS, except you don’t have to submit your findings to the federal government.

You can use key performance indicators to track the success of any changes you make to your facility, such as the overall health and satisfaction of your patients, the number of hospital readmissions or visits to the emergency room, or your overall healthcare expenditures within a specific period of time.

Whether you’re opening a new wing in your facility, introducing new technology, or offering a new service, “meaningful use” helps you monitor the success of these changes, so you can quickly identify and overcome certain challenges when getting these new programs off the ground. This helps you decide if these changes are the right choice for your facility.


The healthcare industry is rapidly going digital, but CMS reminds us to be strategic with our use of the latest technology. It’s important to remember that every facility is different. Just because a piece of technology works for one business doesn’t mean it will work for another.

Implementing new technology and services into your practice can ultimately benefit your practice in more ways than one, but you can’t be certain of these benefits until you’ve measured the results in real time. Collect data on your facility and the health of your patients to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.


Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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