February 14, 2011


The Tortoise or the Hare: Small Medical Practices May Outpace Hospitals In Meeting "Meaningful Use"

If you’re a small medical practice manager or physician, you might be thinking – “Huh? We’re nowhere near meeting “Meaningful Use”. We don’t even know if we ever will be!”
After all, when have the little guys ever had the money to hire full-time IT departments, which surely must be required to meet Meaningful Use? And doesn’t this involve buying an Electronic Health Records system and dumping all my paper records – something many small practices aren’t ready for? Finally, what about all the other government directives to juggle, with names like “Physician Quality Reporting” and “ICD-10 Codes”?
Take a deep, deep breath. The truth is, smaller practices have several distinct advantages the big health care providers don’t.
Cheaper IT resources
The small practice that wants to meet “Meaningful Use” simply doesn’t need to spend the kind of money that the big guys do. First, they won’t require full-time IT experts.  While it does require working computers with a secure Internet connection, and someone who knows how to hook them up. The smart solution for small practices is to hire an outside IT consultant a few hours a month on an as-needed basis for the tech stuff. It will certainly cost far less than hiring in-house, even with consultants that charge higher hourly rates.
Can use modular solutions instead of complete EHRs
Demonstrating “Meaningful Use” of Electronic Health Records is not the same as demonstrating full use of a complete EHR. In fact, small medical practices can use a certified, modular solution like DrFirst’s Rcopia-MU e-prescribing software to qualify for more than $63K in Meaningful Use incentive funds. Did we mention it’s priced at only $7 a day? That’s less than the cost of an exam bed. So much for the myth that it costs small practices a bundle to meet Meaningful Use.
Some IT health directives don’t even apply to small practices
Small medical practices will be relieved to learn that a major directive, switching to ICD-10 coding standards, is only for inpatient facilities – at least for the first phase. So for now, this effectively rules out most small practices.  And while some quality reporting is required, the main incentive program, the Physician Quality Reporting System, is not. (However, participating small practices can easily submit physician quality reporting data with Rcopia-MU!)
Stay tuned as we bust more Meaningful Use myths in the months ahead.

About pkaufman

Schooled at MIT, Dr. Kaufman nurtured a strong interest in medical informatics while a Bowman Gray School of Medicine faculty member. After entering private practice he founded PiNK software in 1996 to produce EMR software, later becoming DrFirst’s chief medical officer upon its founding. He lectures nationally on various healthcare IT topics, and as a board certified gastroenterologist, he continues a limited clinical practice. Dr. Kaufman is a member of the Health IT Standards Committee, Privacy and Security Workgroup for ONC (Office of the National Coordinator for Healthcare Information Technology). Representing the American Gastroenterology Association’s (AGA), Dr. Kaufman is a delegate to the AMA and was the co-chair of the Physicians Electronic Health Record Consortium (PEHRC). He has participated on workgroups at CCHIT (stand-alone e-prescribing), HIMSS (e-prescribing), and NCPDP (e-prescribing).