If you’re confused about CMS’s EHR Incentive Programs, you’re not alone. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched the program in 2011 to provide incentive payments to eligible health care professionals and hospitals as they adopt, implement, upgrade, or demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health record (EHR) technology.

But what, exactly, is “meaningful use”? That’s where things get complicated. You may be tempted to avoid the whole thing, but there are compelling reasons not to stick your head in the sand. For one, 2014 is the last year to begin participation and receive an incentive payment. And eligible professionals can receive up to $43,720 over five continuous years, per CMS. That’s a lot to leave on the exam table. Here’s what you need to know about achieving meaningful use, particularly as it relates to patient education.

Who’s pursuing meaningful use?

The EHR Incentive Programs are phased in three stages with increasing requirements. Providers must attest to demonstrating meaningful use every year to receive an incentive. Meaningful use requirements and deadlines have been a moving target, but it’s not too late to catch up. Currently in Stage 2, CMS has extended the deadline through 2016. You can find out more specifics on the CMS.gov website.

The numbers show that more and more doctors are getting on board with EHRs and meaningful use. In 2013, 78 percent of office-based doctors were using an EHR system, up from 18 percent in 2001, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Last year, 69 percent of office-based providers reported that they intended to participate in meaningful use incentives.

While ophthalmologists lag behind other specialties, they are closing the gap: EHR adoption among ophthalmologists has increased to more than 50 percent, according to the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. And more than 50 percent of ophthalmologists are pursuing meaningful use.

CMS reports that more than 60 percent of doctors and other eligible professionals have received money from the EHR Incentive Programs to date.

How patient education can help you qualify

CMS provides very specific criteria for achieving meaningful use. Stage 2 includes a Patient-Specific Education Resources Core Objective – which, with the right patient education materials, can be very achievable. Within Stage 2, doctors must be able to measure that they’ve provided resources identified by Certified EHR Technology (CEHRT) for more than 10 percent of all unique patient visits during the reporting period. Most EHRs come with only basic patient-education resources that doctors can print out and hand to patients. There’s no guarantee that these materials are written at an appropriate reading level, that the patient understands them, or that they even read them once they leave your office.

While our internet-based software, Rendia, is not certified for meaningful use by itself, in conjunction with your EHR it can be very useful for helping you achieve the criteria. When connected to an EHR, Echo automatically presents you with pertinent patient-education materials related to the code typed into the patient record. You can then show them to the patient right there, post them on a patient portal, or email them directly to the patient. Patients will remain more engaged with a high-quality animation that visually explains their condition or treatment than with a text-heavy printout full of medical terminology. Echo can also track whether, and how many times, a video is viewed. Because what good are educational resources if the patient never uses them?

Making sense of the meaningful use timelines and rule-changes can be complicated, but achieving – and exceeding – the patient-education resources objective is not impossible.

To find out more or for a demo of Rendia, contact us today.