John Marcille

John Marcille

Meaningful use. It’s a simple term, but I hear it misused so often. Let’s be clear about it. Meaningful use is not the billions that the federal government is ploughing into health care information technology, nor is it the IT programs themselves. It isn’t the regulations (though in casual conversation, it’s a natural bit of shorthand.)

No. It’s simply the government’s criterion for subsidies that it will give providers who have obtained state-of-the-art IT systems and are actually using them to file claims, analyze patient populations, manage care, and so on.

It is the government’s carrot, and providers should be concerned about the stick: penalties if Medicare providers (and who isn’t?) don’t buy and use these systems to good effect.

This is a very big deal, and we have approached it in the issue in contributing editor John Carroll’s cover story, on page 12, which talks about how health plans will benefit, but also in contributing editor Martin Sipkoff’s look at whether the eventual system will be up to the tasks we set it, and whether providers can cope with it (page 24). In addition, I interviewed P. Jon White, MD, director of health care information technology at AHRQ, who has some important observations on how health plans have, in his view, been dragging their feet in offering incentives to providers similar to the federal incentives (page 41). Jackie Mazoway, RN, at PricewaterhouseCoopers talks about how health plans will be able to provide valuable data to physicians and other providers when we all have these electronic records and access to them (page 35), and this month’s Plan Watch column (page 53) explores the beneficial outcomes when Kaiser and the VA share electronic health records of patients enrolled in both systems.

And, oh yes, we’ve got plenty of pages this month devoted to important things that are not particularly related to “meaningful use.” Read on.