HHS on Tuesday announced the release of the final rule defining how hospitals and health care professionals can demonstrate "meaningful use" of electronic health records (EHRs) to qualify for federal incentive payments. The incentive plan was outlined in the 2009 federal economic stimulus package to spur adoption of health information technology to boost medical care effectiveness and efficiency.

Health care professionals and hospitals that demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHRs would qualify for $27 billion in incentives administered via higher Medicaid and Medicare payments over five years. However, payments will be reduced starting in 2015 as a penalty for those who do not adopt the new technology. The requirements for demonstrating meaningful use of health IT will be phased in over three stages through 2015.

The first stage of the reimbursement program stipulates that physicians must meet 15 core objectives and hospitals must meet 14. In addition, doctors and hospitals must comply with five additional objectives out of a "menu" of 10 options – for a total of 20 objectives for physicians and 19 for hospitals. One of the core objectives requires handling at least 40 percent of prescriptions electronically. The requirement was relaxed from the earlier proposal, which called for a 75-percent electronic prescribing rate. Hospitals and physicians also would have to use computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems for at least 30 percent of their medication orders. Under the earlier proposal, doctors would have been required to use CPOE systems for 80 percent of medication, laboratory and diagnostic orders.