Congress committed billions to health IT as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has officially entered rulemaking season on the health IT provisions. Just two weeks ago, the agency posted guidance listing the technologies and methodologies that qualify as making protected health information "unusable, unreadable, or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals," which is a critical component of the new breach notification provisions. However, the talk lately has focused on defining the term "meaningful use." What's the significance of "meaningful use"? Well, it triggers $17 billion in Medicare and Medicaid incentives for the adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems by eligible professionals (clinicians) and hospitals to improve the quality of health care and patient outcomes. While "meaningful use" is currently defined by ARRA in a loose manner (full text of the bill is available here, with criteria listed under Subtitle-A Medicare Incentives), it's the core criteria (along with the other loosely defined term "certified EHR") for determining whether or not clinicians and hospitals can collect these incentive payments. These payouts don't begin until 2011, but with so many dollars at stake, it's clear that these words need to be, well, more meaningfully, defined.
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