What the New Meaningful Use Standards for Electronic Health Records Mean

On Tuesday, the federal government issued new standards that will reward the “meaningful use” electronic health records. Hospitals and doctors could potentially receive up to $27 billion over the next ten years for equipment to computerize patients’ medical records. The government feels the changes will help lead to higher quality and more reliable health care.

For example, doctors will now use electronic systems to store patient information normally kept on file, such as date of birth, sex, weight, height and blood pressure. It will also include health information such as medical conditions, smoking habits and medications. Doctors will also have to transmit 40 percent of prescriptions electronically.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, “Meaningful Use” has three major components.

  • Firstly, using electronic health records in a useful manner, such as e-prescribing.
  • Secondly, electronic health records can be used to share information about patients between doctors to improve care. For example, a specialist could share information with a general care physician to create a more complete medical profile.
  • Lastly, electronic health records can be used to monitor clinical care quality.

Although doctors in the U.S. use advanced technology in many areas of medicine, the health care system has been slow to digitize its paper records. “Only 20 percent of doctors and 10 percent of hospitals use even basic electronic health records,” said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services in The New York Times.

Such technology can reduce medical errors, including mistakes that kill people, said Dr. David Blumenthal, the national coordinator for health information technology. It is hoped that electronic medical records will cut down on redundant procedures and lower costs. The new rules do not yet mandate that hospitals must electronically share medical information on patients, which is seen as an ultimate goal.

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