undefinedThe truth about the Meaningful Use Incentive Program to make the switch to a certified EHR is: It's really just a way to encourage the nation to embrace the inevitable. The whole point of the Incentive Program and Meaningful Use criteria is to help healthcare providers coordinate the necessary steps of implementation and reduce the amount of work that will need to be done in the long run.

Fortunately, as we make the switch to Meaningful Use, the government has provided a simple plan to follow (in three different stages), reinforced by both positive and negative motivations. When you complete the steps correctly, you will receive money as an incentive. For Stage 1, you have to implement and demonstrate Meaningful Use by attestation, proving that you and your staff have begun to use the system for data entry and minimal information use (we know it's not quite that simple, you can get all the Stage 1 details here). Once you've purchased your new certified EHR software, you can start reporting for Stage 1 on the first of any quarter and continue reporting for 90 days after. You will report for the entire second year.

Meaningful Use is not only for those who work in eye care; it is a movement towards synchronizing overall health care and medical records. With that in mind, each EHR vendor must design their product according to precise specifications and high standards set forth by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (or simply, HIT), so that similar processes within the system exist, allowing the transfer of patient healthcare information in an effective, secure, and efficient manner. In order to confirm that each EHR can share information with another, they all undergo rigorous testing to meet the standards required to attest for the different stages of Meaningful Use. It doesn't end there, though! Every few years, EHRs are tested and re-tested to ensure that they maintain the high standards provided by HIT. Unfortunately, this means a certified system acquired in 2011 has to have been re-certified in 2014, or that system will be ineligible for the Meaningful Use Program.

Meaningful Use Criteria: Stage 1 and Stage 2

Stage 1

In Stage 1 of Meaningful Use attestation, you will focus primarily on implementing your new EHR, taking small steps towards data capture and information sharing. This means, you must acquire a certified EHR, properly install it, get your staff trained, and demonstrate that you and your staff can use the basic functions. To show this, you will need to enter basic data (that you are probably already collecting through your current system), and you will document that your staff are meaningfully using the EHR.

There are 15 core objectives in Stage 1 that all doctors must meet to attest to Meaningful Use. In addition to the core objectives, participants must complete 5/10 menu objectives, and 6 clinical quality measures. The reporting period of Stage 1 is a consecutive 90 days in the first year and then the following full calendar year.

Some doctors began their Meaningful Use adventure as early as 2011, and have now moved on to Stage 2! However, if you have not started Stage 1, don't panic! It is not too late. You can still take part if you start soon. The last date you can start reporting for Stage 1 in order complete attestation this year and avoid penalties in 2015 is July 1, 2014.

But Wait! How Does Stage 2 Differ?

In order to begin Stage 2 you must have completed Stage 1. You cannot attest to both stages at the same time as Stage 2 builds upon what you learned in Stage 1. Stage 2 began on January 1, 2014, and focuses on evolving your clinical processes through the incorporation of lab results, E-Prescribing, and transmission of patients' information electronically between a variety of healthcare settings solely using each practice's EHR software. They even use the same codes to communicate (ICD-9, and soon, ICD10)! This is extremely helpful when trying to share basic, relevant, and up to date patient records with the patient's other providers (for example: lab work, active allergies, visual fields, etc.).

If you're already working on Stage 2, that's great! It means you're in the clear for avoiding penalties in 2015, and you're ahead of the game and should receive more incentive money than those just starting on Stage 1 now. The measures that you have to report and attest on are also a little different for Stage 2. You'll have to complete 17 core objectives, 3/6 menu objectives, and 12 CQMs.