Hospitals face a host of health information technology priorities in 2012. Perhaps the most pressing challenge is benefiting from the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Programs, and avoiding future penalties. The programs seek to: standardize the electronic capture of data such as patient demographics or clinical orders and results; improve quality at the point of care; and use clinical decision support and patient self-management tools to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of treatments.

Although hospitals can choose when to begin the program, which officially launched in January, they have only until 2014 if they want to receive incentive dollars. Starting in 2015, they will face payment penalties from Medicare.

To qualify for the incentives, hospitals must demonstrate they are meaningful users of EHRs. To do so, they must: possess EHR technology certified against all 24 objectives of meaningful use; meet each of 14 core objectives of meaningful use; meet at least one public health objective, and at least four additional menu-set objectives; and report on 15 clinical quality measures generated directly from the certified EHR.

The EHR requirements come as hospitals are faced with a host of other IT priorities. They include the transition to the ICD-10 coding system and the new version of the HIPAA transaction standards, followed by adoption of operating rules to further standardize business rules for electronic exchange of claims-related transactions, including insurance eligibility. They also include regulatory changes initiated by reform that will require new IT systems.

The AHA is concerned that, under current timelines, Stage 2 of meaningful use is scheduled to begin under ICD-9 in October 2012, but then transition to ICD-10 in October 2013. It has advocated that Stage 2 start only when 75 percent of hospitals and physicians have met the Stage 1 requirements and no sooner than 2013.

To help hospitals navigate these changes, the AHA has created a number of resources, housed at www.aha.org/meaningfuluse. I urge you to take a close look to better understand the requirements as you guide your organization through these critical next few years.

Penny Brooke (Penny.Brooke@nurs.utah.edu) is COG chair and a trustee of Intermountain Health Care Central Urban Region in Salt Lake City.