Are docs really struggling to meet Meaningful Use?

New study uses older information to make a case against EHR incentive program
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Physicians have had difficulty meeting Meaningful Use criteria for electronic health records, according to research published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The research, based on a survey of 1,820 primary care physicians and office-based specialists conducted between late 2011 and early 2012, determined that less than 10 percent of physicians had met Meaningful Use criteria as of early 2012.

The researchers also found that physicians struggled with using EHR systems for panel management tasks. In particular, 41 percent of respondents could not generate quality metrics using their EHRs, while 36 percent could not provide patients with after-visit summaries, and 42 percent could not exchange EHR information with doctors outside of their practice.

"Results support the growing evidence that using the basic data input capabilities of an EHR does not translate into the greater opportunity that these technologies promise," the researchers said.

National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari took issue with the study's findings, posting via Twitter--and confirming to FierceHealthIT--that the results were consistent with statistics showing that 58,000 eligible providers had attested for Meaningful Use by March 2012. That number, he pointed out, has nearly quadrupled, to 226,000.

Figures released on May 22 by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services based on attestation numbers through April 2013 showed that more than half of all eligible professionals in the U.S., and roughly 80 percent of all eligible hospitals, have received incentive payments under the Medicare and Medicaid Meaningful Use programs. Those numbers prompted HHS Kathleen Sebelius to say that EHR adoption has "reached a tipping point."

However, in an editorial piggybacking on the study that also is published in Annals, University of Pennsylvania medical sociologist Ross Koppel called the results "particularly disheartening," saying that the study population likely represented views of "more enthusiastic EHR users."

"These findings likely represent a best-case scenario," Koppel said. "The survey asked physicians about their purchase of EHRs and the functionality and ease of use of those EHRs. Yet, these physicians have devoted hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of learning, and make consequential patient care decisions using them. Such questions are analogous to asking parents whether they are happy that they had children."

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- here's the accompanying editorial
- view Mostashari's tweet

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