Today's 'Meaningful Use' Standard for Medication Orders by Hospitals May Save Few Lives; Later Stages May Do More

Published in: Health Affairs, v. 30, no. 10, Oct. 2011, p. 2005-2012

Posted on RAND.org on October 01, 2011

by Spencer S. Jones, Paul Heaton, Mark W. Friedberg, Eric C. Schneider

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The federal government is currently offering bonus payments through Medicare and Medicaid to hospitals, physicians, and other eligible health professionals who meet new standards for "meaningful use" of health information technology. Whether these incentives will improve care, reduce errors, and improve patient safety as intended remains uncertain. We sought to partially fill this knowledge gap by evaluating the relationship between the use of electronic medication order entry and hospital mortality. Our results suggest that the initial meaningful-use threshold for hospitals--which requires using electronic orders for at least 30 percent of eligible patients--is probably too low to have a significant impact on deaths from heart failure and heart attack among hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries. However, the proposed threshold for the next stage of the program--using the orders for at least 60 percent of patients, a rate some stakeholders have said is too high--is more consistently associated with lower mortality. Our results suggest that the higher standard that will probably follow in the second stage of meaningful-use regulations would be more likely than the first-stage standard to produce the improved patient outcomes at the heart of the federal health information technology initiative.

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