Imagine a World Without Meaningful Use

Ric S - HeadshotThere is More to MU Than Requirements

Ric Sinclair, Head of Product at ZirMed (@Zirmed)

By now, you may be used to thinking about Meaningful Use (MU) as a burden, or yet another obligation on an already long list. You might even be tempted to imagine how much easier life would be for you and your staff if MU didn’t exist.

So what would that look like—a world without Meaningful Use?

Some things wouldn’t change. Patients wouldn’t be any less interested in the potential of technology to improve their experience. If that sounds doubtful, here’s a finding to consider: A recent study from Deloitte found that two out of three people would consider switching to a physician who offers access to their medical records through a secure Internet connection. This preference isn’t due to MU—most patients probably aren’t even aware of MU, much less the specific requirements and deadlines.

In a world without MU, providers would still be able to benefit from the latest forms of technology—but some providers would be slower to adopt them, similar to the delay in adoption of EHR/EMR systems until the recent ACA mandates.

Those two-thirds of patients who prefer accessing their medical records online would notice a clear distinction between providers who implemented modern forms of technology and those who didn’t. So would payers, ACOs, and employers. As those differences became more pronounced—as some providers began offering online appointment scheduling, for example—patients would begin voting with their feet, gravitating toward providers who use technology to streamline and improve the patient experience. (Although it might not be evident to patients, these providers would also be gaining operational efficiencies and saving on administrative costs—putting them in an even better competitive position.) Organizations would begin voting with their dollars, as more and more of them realized that technology doesn’t just translate into perks and conveniences—it actually improves clinical outcomes.

What else would be different?

The measure of a good product wouldn’t be MU certification—it would be user satisfaction, along with the financial, operational, and competitive benefits to the providers who implement it. Rather than checking whether a product was MU certified, providers might look at the product’s reviews and ratings in online forums. They might surf Yelp or Angie’s List to see what patients were saying about other providers, trying to spot the latest trends in provider-patient communications technology. They’d check trade publications to see what other providers said about a given product’s cost-effectiveness and ease of use.

Instead of scrambling to ensure that a small percentage of patients took a specific action, providers might choose products based on the results of patient surveys. 70% of our patients want to receive and pay their bills electronically…60% of our patients prefer scheduling and changing appointments online rather than by phone…80% said they would like to receive automated reminders to help them follow a new regimen of care…what’s a cost-effective way we can do all of that?

Of course, in the real world MU does exist. But paradoxically, the providers who take the above approach in the real world—focusing on what forms of technology are compelling and not merely compliant—may be better able to meet current (and future) MU requirements.

For example, MU2 requires that more than 5% of unique patients send a secure message during the reporting period.

If you don’t implement truly user-friendly messaging options and make it easy to sign up, reaching that 5% (and the certain, subsequent increases) will be like pushing a boulder up a hill.

But if you offer a user-friendly interface combined with messaging functionality that your patients find truly compelling, the effort will be more like a snowball rolling down a hill—making that 5% figure easy to exceed. More and more patients will adopt the technology, your staff will become authentic advocates, and your practice will reap the financial and operational benefits from it. You can always call if you have questions about your lab results, but you can also just send a message through our online portal—most people find it’s faster and more convenient…You can send appointment requests through the portal, too—a lot of our patients prefer that to all the phone tag…No problem—I’ll send you the link.

Similarly, meeting the MU2 requirement to exchange records with other providers will be easy—if you implement intuitive, fully interoperable clinical communications technology that works with all PM and EHR systems. Your staff will naturally adopt (and appreciate) the convenient, modern way of exchanging information. It’ll come through as an attachment—I know, we used to get some crazy piles of paper going over here, too…Oh, really? We can just drag and drop with ours…Yep, it’s HIPAA compliant.

MU isn’t going anywhere, but imagining a world without it illuminates a truth that has been buried in or at least obscured by the compliance-focused discourse: patients want this type of technology, and it saves providers time and money. The challenge isn’t creating demand for it among your patients. The challenge is choosing a compelling form of technology that meets the demonstrated, existing demand.

Imagining a world without MU is a way to see beyond compliance and certification. While both are important, there’s more to MU than checking requirements off a list. The right technology can holistically move your organization toward the overarching goals of MU—while simultaneously making your practice more attractive to patients, freeing up staff, increasing your operational efficiency, and potentially improving clinical outcomes through better patient engagement.

Ric Sinclair is the head of product at ZirMed, a leading health information connectivity and management solutions company. In his role, Ric leads all aspects of product direction, management, design, and development.