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Study: Health Systems' EHR Success Tied to Meaningful Use Guidelines

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   September 21, 2022

Researchers at the University of Missouri have found that health systems who meet CMS meaningful use guidelines for EHRs are improving clinical care and reducing patient mortality rates.

A new study has found that health systems meeting meaningful use requirements established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for electronic health records have been able to improve clinical care and reduce patient mortality rates.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri, published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality, and focused on more than 5 million patient experiences in 300 US hospitals, reinforces the idea that hospitals should be making the effort to integrate EHRs into clinician workflows – and that the government should promote programs that support interoperability.

It also highlights the challenges that many healthcare organizations have faced in installing EHRs and getting them to work as expected. To date, the federal government has invested more than $30 billion in programs aimed to support EHR adoption, and yet few healthcare leaders will agree that the process has been smooth or fruitful.

[See also: Some Good News, and Some Bad, in Report on Physicians and Their EHR Experiences.]

EHRs "have the potential to be very helpful, but in practice they tend to be very disruptive because it's time-consuming to train personnel how to use them," Kate Trout, an assistant professor in the MU School of Health Professions and lead author of the study, said in a press release. "They're expensive, and there's always new complicated updates and new forms that come out, and there is often a lack of interoperability for the data to be shared among different healthcare organizations."

More than a decade ago, CMS established the Meaningful Use Program (know called the Promoting Interoperability Program), which offers financial incentives to health systems who used EHRs to promote data sharing, public health reporting and interoperability.

Using data from EHRs, the American Hospital Association, and CMS, Trout and her colleagues grouped health systems into three categories: Those who successfully met CMS meaningful use guidelines, those who are using EHRs but not in a way the meets meaningful use guidelines, and those who haven't yet implemented EHRs or who are still integrating the platform.

They found that health systems in the first category were more successful in providing quality care and reducing patient mortality than those in the other two categories.

"This research highlights the importance of using electronic health records in a way that promotes interoperability to streamline processes, speed up decision-making, reduce wasted time, and ultimately improve patient health outcomes," Trout said in the press release. "Ideally the United States could implement one standardized electronic health records system for everyone to ensure compatibility so policy makers can hopefully benefit from this research."

[See also: HIMSS22 Takes on Healthcare's Biggest Challenges.]

She also pointed to the value of innovation in EHR adoption and use.

"Are there alerts we can put in after a surgery to ensure we follow up at critical points in time?" she asked. "Are there certain patient populations that we can use the data to catch them earlier and make sure we give them extra care and not just put them through the same routine protocols as everyone else? That is how we move away from focusing on implementing the technology and progress toward encouraging innovative ideas that ultimately improve patient health outcomes."


Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.

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