On one level, the meaningful use electronic record incentive program is all about the money. Many providers, especially small practices, jumped head first into the program because the financial incentives made it possible to automate at little or no cost-if they got those incentive checks.

Take Springfield (Ohio) Center for Family Medicine, where all six physicians have attested to meaningful use, with four by mid-July having received $18,000 first-year checks from the Medicare incentive program, and the other two awaiting payment.

That money is already flowing downstream at the practice, which purchased a document management and imaging system along with workstations, all integrated with the electronic records and practice management systems of Horsham, Pa.-based NextGen Healthcare Information Systems, says Cindy Brewer, office manager. The EHR and the purchase of ancillary technology would not have been done without the incentive payments, she adds. "We've wanted to do it but didn't know when the finances were going to be there."

The incentives also did the job at 25-bed Hemphill County Hospital in Canadian, Texas. The hospital implemented the core clinical information system of Houston-based Prognosis Health Information Systems in February 2010.

Without the incentive funds attached to the initiative, an EHR would have been a much lower priority and taken a lot longer to come to fruition, "and would not have had strong executive backing that this is where we're going," says Patrick Murfee, information technology director.

The trek to meaningful use has produced numerous technological and workplace lessons for those who have done it, but this is just the first step in a long haul project to revamp processes via EHRs, and the true payoffs, financially and clinically, are further down the road. Joe Goedert's feature story in the September issue of Health Data Management, "Making the Most of Meaningful Use," explores lessons learned from those who have gone through the process.


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