Electronic health records (EHRs) have emerged as a major topic in health care and are central to the federal government's strategy for transforming healthcare delivery in the United States. Recent federal actions that aim to promote the use of EHRs promise to have significant implications for laboratories and for pathology practices. Under the HITECH (Health Information Technology Economic and Clinical Health) Act, an EHR incentive program has been established through which individual physicians and hospitals can qualify to receive incentive payments if they achieve "meaningful use" of "certified" EHR technology. The rule also establishes payment penalties in future years for eligible providers who have not met the requirements for meaningful use of EHRs. Meaningful use must be achieved using EHR technology that has been certified in accordance with functional and technical criteria that are set forth a regulation that parallels the meaningful use criteria in the incentive program. These actions and regulations are important to laboratories and pathologists for a number of reasons. Several of the criteria and requirements in the meaningful use rules and EHR certification criteria relate directly or indirectly to laboratory testing and laboratory information management, and future stage requirements are expected to impact the laboratory as well. Furthermore, as EHR uptake expands, there will be greater expectations for electronic interchange of laboratory information and laboratory information system (LIS)-EHR interfaces. Laboratories will need to be aware of the technical, operational, and business challenges that they may face as expectations for LIS-EHR increase. This paper reviews the important recent federal efforts aimed at accelerating EHR use, including the incentive program for EHR meaningful use, provider eligibility, and EHR certification criteria, from a perspective of their relevance for laboratories and pathology practices.
Keywords: Electronic health records; federal regulations; laboratory information management; laboratory information systems; meaningful use.