Representatives of five radiology practices that have successfully attested or preparing to attest for meaningful use of electronic health records will discuss their experiences during an educational session at the Radiology Society of North America's annual conference, Nov. 27-Dec. 2 in Chicago.

"You'll see the full spectrum of practices, from aggressively pushing toward meaningful use to folks like us investing a lot of time figuring out operational and information technology requirements to decide when to jump," says presenter James Whitfill, M.D., chief medical informatics officer at Southwest Diagnostic Imaging in Phoenix. "The panel will probably match what you're seeing in the real world."

Whitfill's practice started looking at meaningful use more than a year ago. "There were a million questions and not a lot of answers," he recalls. The practice is pushing to attest sometime during 2012 and continues to work on three primary pieces of meaningful use, he notes.

The I.T. piece is getting the certified systems in place. Southwest Diagnostic uses a radiology information system from GE Healthcare, which the vendor expects to have certified as an EHR Module in late 2011. After certification, the practice will study where its own radiology system falls short of being compliant, if at all, and whether it will code additional functionalities in-house to fill any gaps.

The operational piece is changing work processes to obtain data, such as new requirements to collect and record a patient's height, weight and blood pressure. There are circumstantial exemptions to these requirements to learn of, and workflow changes to minimize adding more time to the average length of a patient visit as the data is collected.

The operational piece also requires keeping abreast of meaningful use particulars as federal officials continue to issue guidance on specific issues, such as whether patients treated via remote consultations are counted. That issue still needs further clarification, Whitfill says. But if it turns out that that radiologists only have to count exams of patients they had direct contact with, then the operational and reporting sides of meaningful use become less daunting.

The third piece of meaningful use is measuring and reporting data, Whitfill says. Southwest Diagnostic has invested in dashboard technology and is almost ready to go live.

But because Stage 1 meaningful use is already underway, with guidance still coming and clarifications still needed, and Stage 2 of the program just around the corner, the lasting impression Whitfill wants to leave is the need to stay updated on program requirements.

"This continues to be an evolving area," he cautions. "What we knew nine months ago is different from what we knew four months ago and different from what we know now. It's really critical to stay abreast, but the good news is we have a much clearer picture today of the path to meaning use, and there's optimism that Stage 2 criteria will bring radiology deeper into meaningful use."

Course No. ICII32, "Meaningful Use: Experience from Radiology Practices," is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, in Room S501ABC of McCormick Place. More information is available at


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