A different look at Meaningful Use

One of the biggest moves in healthcare over the past several years has revolved around the concept of Meaningful Use. The goal of Meaningful Use is to improve the efficiency of the healthcare system–the ultimate outcome, then, should be the improvement of the overall health of the population. The interesting thing to me is that, according to healthit.gov Meaningful Use starts with electronically capturing health information in a standardized format.

In this model, there are 3 main stages:

Stage 1: Data Capturing and Sharing
Stage 2: Advance clinical processes
Stage 3: Improved Outcomes

If the ultimate goal of Meaningful Use is to improve quality, safety, and efficiency—leading to improved health outcomes (ie: a healthier population)—why is the first stage not education? As I have talked about in other articles {link to other articles}, the whole experience does not begin when a patient’s health information is collected. It happens long before, and it should happen by engaging and educating potential patients.

The big push in Meaningful Use is updating the technologies used in hospitals across the board, so that they are all current. But that is (pardon the pun) a “band-aid” on what ails the industry as a whole. Unlike almost every other industry in the world, healthcare has a component that makes the success of Meaningful Use fundamentally flawed: the patient.

Look at other industries: you will find that, in most cases, the consumer is not so much a cog in the machine but is the recipient of the outcome of what the machine produces. Take the iPhone. Yes, buyers can determine the success, failure, or even variations of the phone, but they are not “in the trenches” with the people building the product. Very few people have been to the factories in China where Apple builds the iPhone.

In healthcare it’s different. The consumer (this means the patient) is not just the “input device” as laid out in the Meaningful Use stages. In healthcare, the patient must continually communicate with doctors, hospitals, nurses, etc. in order to receive the correct care at the right time. This is a continual cycle, an endless loop, not a typical consumer-based end-to-end process.

No matter what technology the doctors, hospitals, or healthcare industry employs, it will never reach its goal of efficiency and quality care without involving the patient. Establishing a strategy and defined goals for educating the public is the only way to truly achieve the end goals laid out by Meaningful Use.

Yes, the healthcare industry is years behind in technology. But here’s the real issue: the public is decades behind. They need to be engaged with and educated by the industry using that technology. Meaningful Use should start with Stage 0: bringing the public up to where healthcare currently is.