Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) officials recently released proposed regulations defining the "meaningful use" of electronic health records. The regulations are part of a government effort to spur the adoption of health information technology to improve medical care and cut costs. The regulations are included in the 2009 economic stimulus package, which provided about $19 billion in Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to eligible health care providers who demonstrate meaningful use of health IT.

The proposed requirements for demonstrating meaningful use of health IT will be phased in over three stages between now and 2013. The release of criteria this week marks the first stage, focusing on gathering data electronically – which can be shared between providers and patients – and reporting the measures to the government. The second stage, which is slated to be issued by the end of 2011, will focus on structured information exchange and continuous quality improvement. The third stage, which will be issued by the end of 2013, will focus on decision support for "national high priority conditions" and population health.

Under the proposed rules, health care providers who use EHR technology for at least 80 percent of their medical instructions would be eligible for the incentive payments. Providers also must give patients paper copies of their medical data and use computers to check for potential drug interactions. Hospitals would have to file at least 10 percent of their orders electronically to be eligible for incentive payments.