Searching for meaning behind the numbers


For better or worse, we live by numbers.

So with the recent reports out of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) showing how much HITECH incentive money has been disbursed to how many providers, we are understandably inclined to be encouraged.

But what do those numbers really mean?

First, a quick glance at overall meaningful use progress. This article, culling from a few different reports, notes that, according to CMS, as of March:

  • 44,014 eligible professionals had received $792 million in Medicare incentive payments;

  • 911 hospitals had received $1.6 billion in Medicare incentive payments;

  • 29,931 eligible professionals had received $628 million in Medicaid incentive payments; and

  • 1,756 hospitals had received nearly $1.5 billion in Medicaid incentive payments.

CMS also reports that, in March alone, among other developments:

  • 8,651 eligible professionals received $155.7 million in Medicare meaningful use incentive payments;

  • 115 hospitals received $184.2 million in Medicare meaningful use incentive payments;

  • 5,201 eligible professionals received $108.9 million in Medicaid incentive payments for adopting, implementing or upgrading to a certified EHR system;

  • 163 hospitals received $145.2 million in Medicaid incentive payments for adopting, implementing or upgrading to a certified EHR system.

Naturally, these are all positive development, but how positive? In other words, while policymakers and advocates are bound to point to MU numbers as progress, the real success of all of these programs should be gauged by some measurement of, for example, the efficiencies gained and money saved -- or even better, the improvement in overall healthcare services.

Those numbers will be harder to come by, and we wouldn’t expect to see them so soon. Nonetheless, the goal of moving providers to EHRs is, in fact, an interim one. The more, dare we say it, “meaningful” goal is to improve the delivery and impact of healthcare services. Evidence that those goals are being approached will be the true indicator of the HITECH program’s success.

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