The Many Meaningful Uses of Health Information Technology

Emily Hogin | HealthIT Buzz | May 18, 2011

ONC’s core mission includes promoting the meaningful use of health information technology nationwide. By one definition, “meaningful users” are those who qualify to receive funding under the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records Incentive Programs under the HITECH provisions of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This funding goes to health care providers who adopt certified electronic health records and use them in specific ways to improve patients’ health, increase transparency and efficiency, and engage patients and caregivers.

According to a March 2011 Health Affairs Exit Disclaimer article co-authored by Brian K. Bruen and Leighton Ku, along with ONC’s own Melinda Beeuwkes Buntin and Matthew Burke, more than four in five office-based physicians and virtually all acute-care hospitals could be eligible for the Medicare/Medicaid incentives. But the incentives do not apply to everyone. The Health Affairs article acknowledges that under the HITECH Act, many pediatricians, obstetrician-gynecologists, and mental health providers will not be eligible for the incentive payments. The same is true for long-term and post-acute care providers. 

For ONC, the fact that not all providers are eligible for payments under HITECH is a reminder that meaningful use is not only a financial incentive program; it is also a goal. Meaningful use is the idea that all of our nation’s health care system will benefit from an IT infrastructure in which electronic health information can be collected, exchanged, and innovatively deployed to improve the safety, quality, and cost effectiveness of American health care. ONC has several programs and resources to help providers and hospitals that do not happen to be eligible for incentive payments nevertheless use health IT to improve their patients’ care.