When it comes to vertical industries that MSPs can specialize in, healthcare has been at the top of the list. But so-called meaningful use guidelines have been a thorny mess for healthcare organizations and MSPs to navigate. Now healthcare-oriented IT service providers can get a look at the government’s proposed rules for running the second phase of its electronic health record (EHR) incentive program.

The meaningful use initiative provides payments to physicians and hospitals based on their ability to meet the government’s criteria for effective deployment of EHR technology. The program kicked off in 2011 under a set of requirements known as Stage 1 criteria.

The proposed criteria for Stage 2 of meaningful use appeared March 7 in the Federal Register, followed by a 60-day public comment period. A final rule on Stage 2 criteria is expected later this year with the rule going into effect in 2014.

MSPs, however, may want to start assembling the skill sets and partnering arrangements they’ll need to help healthcare clients hit the new meaningful use targets. Last year, much of the work in meaningful use focused on EHR adoption and meeting the basic requirements for receiving the incentive payments. EHR implementation projects (on-premise deals or helping customers get set up with SaaS solutions) will continue to keep service providers occupied this year, as the market is still quite a ways away from saturation.

On the ambulatory side, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 57 percent of office-based physicians used electronic records systems in 2011 and 52 percent of physicians said they intended to apply for meaningful use incentives.

A Wider Set of Services

The Stage 2 criteria, however, will push healthcare organizations beyond core EHR deployment. MSPs should be prepared to provide a wider set of services.

Here are a few areas to consider:
  • Health information exchange --- Stage 2 requirements “include rigorous expectations for health information exchange,” according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that authored the proposed rule. The criteria will challenge healthcare providers to link with lab systems and electronically dispatch patient care summaries to other providers and across other EHR systems. MSPs may be able to help healthcare customers reach out to other providers via local, regional and statewide information exchanges
  • IT Security -- Stage 1 required healthcare providers to conduct a security risk analysis to protect electronic health information. That requirement holds true for Stage 2 as well. Stage 2, however, also directs providers to address “the encryption/security of data at rest.” Here, MSPs could help providers assess polices and procedures regarding mobile device encryption.
  • Reporting -- The proposed rule boosts the reporting workload for healthcare providers. Hospitals, for example, must report 24 clinical quality measures, choosing from a menu of 49 items. Providers may need advice on getting the most out of their EHR system’s reporting capabilities. They may also need assistance with deploying additional reporting tools to get the job done. Healthcare continues to prove a solid market for service providers with meaningful use contributing in a major way. The Stage 2 criteria raises the bar for hospitals and medical practices. The prepared MSP should be in a position to help customers clear it.