The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 had wide sweeping implications, a number for healthcare.  The act often referred to as “the Stimulus” had three immediate goals: create and save jobs, spur economic activity, and foster unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in recovery spending.

The act authorizes the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide reimbursement incentives for physicians and hospital providers who successfully become “meaningful users” of electronic health records (EHR).

So what does it mean to be a meaningful user?  The framework for meaningful use comes from the report titled “National Priorities and Goals” which was created by the National Priorities Partnership in 2008.  The priorities outlined for the US include increased patient engagement, reduction of racial disparities, improved safety, increased efficiency, coordination of care, and improved population health.

“GIGO” (garbage in garbage out) holds true for any database of information.   By requiring specific data about patients, a wealth of information can be amassed about population health, and patients can have real-time access to all of their medical information.  Effective use of this information can make considerable improvements to the prevention and management of chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease, prevent hundreds of thousands of unnecessary amputations and premature deaths, and averting medical errors.

How can healthcare providers benefit from this initiative?  In addition to providing a higher quality of care for their patients, qualifying providers can earn up to $44,000 each.  I believe radiologists have a leg up on other healthcare providers, because they have already begun to adopt electronic healthcare information systems.  PACS (picture archiving and communication systems) are already being used to store and access imaging data.  Radiologists can access these images on server based networks, interpreting images from miles away, even on mobile devices.  The days of patients carrying around cd’s of information are coming to an end.

To qualify for stage 1 of this incentive, healthcare providers must meet a number of metrics.  Details on qualification can be found on the CMS website (  In short, the reporting period for this information is 90 days for the first year and 1 year subsequently.  Eligible professionals must fully complete 15 core objectives, 5 out of 10 objectives from a menu set, and 6 total clinical quality measure (3 core or alternative, and 3 out of 38 from alternative set).  Hospitals must complete 14 core objectives, 5 out of 10 from a menu set, and 15 clinical quality measures.

In summary we can all look forward to a better healthcare system in the long-run.  Quality information systems provide healthcare providers and patients with the means for better care and better clinical outcomes.  Stage one of meaningful use provides healthcare providers with an excellent financial incentive to adopt the outlined information and quality measures.  Stage two of meaningful use has already been proposed and will be finalized this year, which will continue to build on the core goals from the “National Priorities and Goals” report.



The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology:

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: