Health Information Technology

Meaningful Use

Electronic health records (EHRs) are a critical component of redesigning our health care system — but simply automating how care is provided now will not result in better care. To encourage use of EHRs that directly benefits patients, the HITECH Act set up an incentive program for providers in the Medicare and Medicaid programs that will give bonus payments to doctors and hospitals that use EHRs to improve the quality of care, reduce medical errors and improve efficiency.

The law allocates roughly $20 billion in incentive payments made in 3 stages. The Medicare program offers these incentives, and state Medicaid programs can also choose to offer these incentives, to eligible providers for the “meaningful use” of certified electronic health records. In order to qualify as a meaningful user, eligible professionals including physicians, nurse practitioners, dentists and others and hospitals must attest that they have implemented an EHR that has been certified by an ONC-approved testing body, and that they are meeting certain federal criteria in the way that they use their EHR to improve care.

Meeting these criteria will, among other things:

  • Give you quicker access to your health information;
  • Make your health information available to share with other doctors caring for you, if you allow it, in order to coordinate your care;
  • Help to protect the privacy of your health information;
  • Give you a summary of each visit; and
  • Help to prevent drug errors, harmful medication interactions and duplicate tests.

Incentive payments began flowing in 2011 and will continue to do so for Medicare providers until 2015, and Medicaid providers until 2021, depending on when the provider first qualified. Medicare providers who fail to adopt EHR technology by 2015 may then incur penalties.