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Meaningful Use: Start Early for Maximum Patient and Financial Benefits


How one practice is preparing for meaningful use compliance -- and payment.

There are challenges, but there are no disadvantages to radiology practices proactively implementing technology to achieve the goals and objectives of Stage 1 meaningful use of EHRs.

Careful and thorough planning, combined with getting everyone involved and committed to the process, are the keys to not only a successful implementation of the technology, but just as importantly, to ensure that a practice achieves all of the benefits that meaningful use offers. We initially implemented an EHR for the cost savings and clinical workflow improvements it provides. The Federal Government’s meaningful use-related financial incentives provide an added benefit and help to offset the required investment for the technology.

As is the case for all successful projects, thoughtful and detailed planning is the first step. Meaningful use will impact each member of the University Radiology team.

Our practice is the New Jersey’s largest provider of subspecialty radiology and teleradiology services, and is comprised of 95 Board Certified Radiologists with advanced U.S.-based training and expertise in all modalities and all subspecialty areas. University Radiology also staffss, manages and provides preliminary and final subspecialty interpretations and consultative support for hospitals, imaging centers and other medical facilities. It also serves as the academic radiology faculty at UMDNJ – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. 

While beneficial financially and to patient outcomes, meaningful use will also mean more work for myself, our technologists and the front- and business-office personnel as meaningful use requires the collection of 30 or so new data points.  We began preparing for implementation late last year, educating ourselves on final Stage 1 requirements and leveraging online communities and such resources as radiologymu.org to share plans, thoughts, and concerns with radiologists at other practices across the country.

We’ve found that being prepared for any and every inevitability is crucial. Merely adequate preparation is inadequate. The biggest challenge, pure and simple, has been the time needed for the sheer grunt work of collecting additional demographic and clinical data.

As stated, meaningful use requires capturing multiple data points for every patient. Stage 1 meaningful use goals and objectives under The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for Health Information Technology requires providers to capture and make readily available across a radiology practice such things as patients’ smoking habits, vaccination histories, and allergies. Meaningful use’s intent, which University Radiology largely supports, is to leverage every bit of patient information to help medical professionals make the best-possible health-care decisions. That said, some healthcare providers will always be suspicious and may view such reporting requirements as too intrusive, or simply pointless.

Our RIS (Radiology Information System) provider, MedInformatix, meets weekly with our full team, taking our feedback and working side-by-side with us to leverage the system’s Electronic Health Records (EHR) module to quickly implement all Stage 1-required database metrics. In my research, and during my and my team’s online interactions with radiologists and practice employees, I’ve often heard concerns about the cost of meaningful use implementation. Because we’re leveraging our existing RIS, University Radiology has not invested additional capital toward getting our IT systems up toward meeting the provision’s requirements. Our RIS/EHR vendor, Medinformatix, pursued certification independently of our actions. It’s part of the core system. That said, there are costs related to time and efforts needed to implement the MU requirement, and some of these costs can be difficult to measure.

But consider this. The cost savings and benefits of a a digital, as compared to an analog records system is sizable when considering the decreased need for record keeping staff members and the time required to search for analog records. Government incentive payments of as much as $44,000 per provider for practices implementing certified meaningful use technology by 2012 also ramp up the ROI curve.

We’re making major progress, and are excited about what meaningful use will mean for our practice and, most importantly, with respect to patient outcomes. We began collecting data and measuring benefits on June 1, which means that we can begin submitting for attestation on Sep. 1. In addition to speeding the process, the extra time provides a margin for error and enables us to make corrections, if necessary.  This is why it’s been so important to begin the process as early as possible to give our group a good idea about the testing and measuring process.

Alberto Goldszal is Chief Information Officer, University Radiology Group, East Brunswick, N.J.


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