In a new letter to the industry updating federal activities, David Blumenthal, M.D., national coordinator for health information technology, explains why "meaningful use" of electronic health records is the crux of the Medicare and Medicaid incentives in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He also gives some hints on how a proposed rule due by year-end will define meaningful use.
"By focusing on 'meaningful use,' we recognize that better health care does not come solely from the adoption of technology itself, but through the exchange and use of health information to best inform clinical decisions at the point of care," Blumenthal writes. "Meaningful use of EHRs, we anticipate, will also enable providers to reduce the amount of time spent on duplicative paperwork and gain more time to spend with their patients throughout the day.  It will lead us toward improvements and sustainability of our health care system that can only be attained with the help of a reliable and secure nationwide electronic health information system.
"The concept of meaningful use is simple and inspiring, but we recognize that it becomes significantly more complex at a policy and regulatory level.  As a result, we expect that any formal definition of 'meaningful use' must include specific activities health care providers need to undertake to qualify for incentives from the federal government. 
"Ultimately, we believe 'meaningful use' should embody the goals of a transformed health system.  Meaningful use, in the long-term, is when EHRs are used by health care providers to improve patient care, safety, and quality."
Blumenthal's full letter is available at
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