The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Electronic Health Records Incentive Program “meaningful use” verification period opened on Monday, April 18, allowing information compiled by medical institutions in electronic health record (EHR) systems to be submitted for reimbursement. The CMS is the federal agency that administers Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

The EHR Incentive Program is a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Physicians implementing EHRs and can demonstrate meaningful use of the systems can receive up to $65,000 from Medicaid, or as much as $44,000 from Medicare. Hospitals can receive reimbursements from both, tallying in the millions of dollars. According to the CMS, the act listed three components of meaningful use:

  • The use of a certified EHR in a meaningful manner, such as e-prescribing.
  • The use of certified EHR technology for electronic exchange of health information to improve quality of health care.
  • The use of certified EHR technology to submit clinical quality and other measures.

EHRs compile a plethora of information on patients, including medical history, medications, vital signs, immunizations, laboratory data and much more. By having all the information shared on one system, physicians can easily access a patient’s complete file, streamlining workflow and making patient care more thorough.

There are three stages of meaningful use under the incentive program, with the first being a 90-day attestation reporting period. Criteria for the second and third stages have not yet been released. The CMS has set up a step-by-step guide on the attestation period for those interested in taking part in the program.

Experts said hospitals should begin their 90-day attestation period by July 3 and physicians by Oct. 1 in order to receive a Medicare payment in 2011. Experts also cautioned, however, that it’s important to take the time to make sure the EHR being used is able to report the appropriate criteria to qualify for meaningful use. An interactive list of certified EHRs is available at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology website.

Recent studies have shown that electronic health records (also called electronic medical records) help improve delivery of care and reduce medication errors. A report in the March issue of Health Affairs, showed that of 154 peer-reviewed studies from 2007 to 2010 that looked at health IT, 92 percent reached positive conclusions regarding electronic medical records.

For more information, the CMS has set up a website for those interested in the incentive program.