“Meaningful” means nothing

I’ve had several conversations now in which someone has used the word “meaningful” and then, (while rolling their eyes) immediately tries to take it back, as if the word has been banned from our vocabulary. Of course, this only holds true if you work in healthcare, and are at all aware of how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and its sibling, the HITECH Act, have changed the way we think about information technology. Meaningful use of certified EHR systems is the new goal for all physicians and hospitals in order to avoid payment penalties. While there are many hospitals and physicians that have already implemented this technology over the past decade, those for whom the technology proved too expensive, complicated or otherwise elusive now look at the meaningful use requirements as the lowest bar over which they must jump in order to stay ahead of the payment reductions. Will the concept of meaningful use continue to evolve beyond the requirements that will be in place by 2015? It’s unfortunate Congress did not call this effort “basic use” or “initial use” of technology, for there are few ways to describe what is yet to come without resorting to “more meaningful” and “still more meaningful.”  Don’t get me wrong. I write this as an optimist, and believe that we will still see developments in health information technology that will make what we’re doing today seem like baby steps. Calling it “meaningful” today doesn’t really set that kind of tone for the future. We must accept that this will be a long, exciting journey, and find a new word to plug the hole in our vocabulary. There’s always “visionary.”

-Rod Piechowski

Copyright © 2010, Rod Piechowski, Inc., Consulting

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