The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 provides for incentive payments through Medicare and Medicaid for clinicians who implement electronic health records (EHRs) and use this technology meaningfully to improve patient care. There are few comprehensive descriptions of how primary care practices achieve the meaningful use of clinical data, including the formal stage 1 meaningful use requirements.Methods
Evaluation of the Colorado Beacon Consortium project included iterative qualitative analysis of practice narratives, provider and staff interviews, and separate focus groups with quality improvement (QI) advisors and staff from the regional health information exchange (HIE).Results
Most practices described significant realignment of practice priorities and aims, which often required substantial education and training of physicians and staff. Re-engineering office processes, data collection protocols, EHRs, staff roles, and practice culture comprised the primary effort and commitment to attest to stage 1 meaningful use and subsequent meaningful use of clinical data. While realizing important benefits, practices bore a significant burden in learning the true capabilities of their EHRs with little effective support from vendors. Attestation was an important initial milestone in the process, but practices faced substantial ongoing work to use their data meaningfully for patient care and QI. Key resources were instrumental to these practices: local technical EHR expertise; collaborative learning mechanisms; and regular contact and support from QI advisors.Conclusions
Meeting the stage 1 requirements for incentives under Medicare and Medicaid meaningful use criteria is the first waypoint in a longer journey by primary care practices to the meaningful use of electronic data to continuously improve the care and health of their patients. The intensive re-engineering effort for stage 1 yielded practice changes consistent with larger practice aims and goals. While many of these practices are now poised to use data meaningfully, faster progress will likely come with continued local QI and technical support and planned community-wide learning.