What Is Meaningful Use?
Meaningful Use

What Is Meaningful Use? October 3, 2017


Not too long ago the healthcare industry realized that the procuring, recording and safe-keeping of personal and medical information would eventually have to go completely digital.  Knowing something and implementing it, though, are totally different things.

Although some healthcare providers were complying, a good number of them were also resisting changes to the paper-only system—at best, they were willing to use electronic health records (EHRs) as a complementary or back-up system.  The government has, thereafter, been looking for ways to motivate all healthcare providers to switch to EHRs. Needless to say, finding ways to get providers to comply hasn’t been easy.

As part of the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic & Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the government motivated healthcare providers to demonstrate “meaningful use” of certified EHRs, thereby becoming qualified to receive special government cash incentives.

Ostensibly, the purpose of meaningful use was to encourage providers to wholeheartedly adopt EHRs, hopefully leading to a more coherent, standardized and streamlined healthcare system; on a more practical level, EHRs from the beginning were supposed to improve health outcome, lower costs, hold providers accountable, and elicit more trust, performance satisfaction and respect from patients.

Needless to say, these were ambitious goals.


This is one of those unique technical terms that is best defined, rather than by what it is, by what it does—simply put, meaningful use is the strategic employment of certified EHRs technology to properly secure and keep private patient health information, motivate the engagement of family and friends in medical processes, and, finally, help improve the following:

–Coordination of care


–Quality of care


–Public health coordination

–Population involvement

–Reduction of health disparities

–Coordination with health insurance companies

–Fewer penalties from government agencies and insurance companies for noncompliance (e.g., with HIPAA)

–Reduced chances of being sued for breaches of privacy

–Reduced chances of personal information security breaches occurring

–Fewer errors committed by staff (better chance to spot and correct them before they became legal problems)


There is no question that meaningful use translates into benefits for all stakeholders in healthcare, including insurance companies, health-promoting private and government agencies, medical personnel, and most important of all, the public.

In essence, meaningful use has usually translated into improved outcomes for populations, improved clinical outcomes, better empowered patients/family members, ameliorated transparency and more easily-deciphered, accessible and robust healthy systems data.

In fact, thanks to meaningful use and evaluation tools like the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Incentive Programs, EHRs management and use can now be tied to specific objectives that healthcare providers are expected to meet. Some stages of progress that are often used include a) data obtainment & sharing, b) advanced protocol clinical processes, and, finally, c) improved health outcomes.

Meeting these objectives, furthermore, is carefully documented on government-provided sheets specifically designed to track and record progress.  Obviously, what these tools help to bring about and promote are accountability and transparency—two things in healthcare that are essential for across-the-board improvements.


Although professionals in healthcare have known for a while that everything in society is going digital, there has nevertheless been strong resistance for change.  Even the people who have supported the change to digital, though, now realize that the digital gathering and keeping of health information isn’t perfect either.

What will probably be best in the long run is a mix of the two (i.e., the use of both digital and hardcopy documents)—actually, that’s what’s happening right now.  Meanwhile, things like meaningful use are helping to change the minds of the still-around “hold-outs.”

It may come as a soothing side note in the annals of medical history to know that the hold-outs were at least partly right.

Yes, EHRs are the way to go but, should electricity go out, computer/data systems get breached or damaged, and records deliberately get altered or compromised, it will be nice to know that there will always be hardcopies of these records available for use.

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