Making Meaning Out of Meaningful Use by: Susan Alcorn | posted July 17, 2013

Healthcare providers and their IT departments have been tossing around the phrase “meaningful use” over the last several years. At healthcare organizations across the country, at meeting after meeting, the techies are dazzling us civilians – everyone from physicians and nurses to operations folks—with grave warnings, plans for strategic initiatives and lists of noble goals. And the phones in many PR offices are ringing off the hook, with our colleagues asking for help in communicating meaningful use.

It’s not going to stop.  Providers will become increasingly stressed as they work to balance the complexities of EHR implementation and the demand for connectivity with threatened cuts in reimbursement if they don’t meet the federal guidelines, so the calls will be even more persistent as the 2014 deadline nears.

Well clearly, you’re not the EHR expert and you can’t achieve the clinical goals required for meaningful use.  So what can you do to help? What’s your role in meaningful use as a communicator?

Right now, it’s to help your leaders and IT teams explain meaningful use in a clear and concise way, and to help engage your medical staff, employees and other key audiences in the quest for meaningful use.

This means deciphering complex technical language and disseminating it.  A few steps to consider:

  1. Research it.  We included a little primer at the end of this post.
  2. Translate the regulations into small, easy-to-digest chunks and share them with employees via your internal web or newsletters.
  3. Work with the IT team to develop an effective PowerPoint for use with a variety of audiences.
  4. Help draft communications for referring physicians and other community providers.
  5. Use examples of how meaningful use has – or will — help patients – or even better, a specific patient and his or her family.
  6. Pitch it to your local media or even just share internally so that your internal audiences are on board.

The implementation of meaningful use is an opportunity to provide immense value to your organization.  So answer those phones.  Wade through the technical language. And you will prove, yet again, the value that clear, concise and thoughtful communications brings to your organization.

A Meaningful Use Snapshot

First, a definition:  As hospitals, doctors, and other providers ramp up adoption of the electronic health record as required under the Accountable Care Act, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wants to ensure that  providers are not only using EHRs, but that they are also using them in a meaningful way.  CMS is, in other words, looking to hospitals and physicians to use their EHR platforms not just as a charting device, but also to produce benchmarks that enable improved outcomes.

The Penalties: If providers can prove that they are using EHRs in a meaningful way, they are eligible for incentive payments – a maximum of $44,000 for Medicare and $63,000 for Medicaid (in 43 states and territories).  On the other hand, if providers do not show meaningful use, Medicare reimbursements will be cut by 1% in 2015, 2% in 2016, 3% in 2017, 4% in 2018, and up to 95% depending on future reimbursement adjustments. (Of course, all of this is subject to sequestration.) This could mean millions of dollars in decreased reimbursement to a provider.

What Counts as Meaningful Use: So what exactly counts as meaningful use? Clinical quality measures (CQMs) that use a data associated with a provider’s ability to deliver high-quality care or relate to long-term goals for healthcare quality are considered meaningful use.  More specifically, CQMs measure many aspects of patient care including: health outcomes, clinical processes, patient safety, efficient use of healthcare resources, care coordination, patient engagements, population and public health, and clinical guidelines. All of these measures are made possible through the use of the EHR.

Learn More: For more information on meaningful use, check out

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About Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn, a 30 year hospital marketing and communications veteran, serves as Of Counsel to the firm lending her expertise and national perspective from some of the country’s most recognized, innovative healthcare systems to our clients.