Practice Economics

CMS finalizes ‘flexibility’ in EHR meaningful use program


 

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Physicians and hospitals will have more time to meet Stage 2 requirements under the federal government’s meaningful use program for the adoption of electronic health records.

Officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have been saying for months that they wanted to give physicians and hospitals greater flexibility in meeting the requirements of the EHR Incentive Programs, which offer bonuses for the "meaningful use" of certified EHR systems. The final rule cements a new timetable for Stage 2 of the program and allows providers to use older certified technology for longer, while vendors catch up with a backlog of demand.

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Physicians and hospitals will now have more time to meet Stage 2 requirements, but some doctors say the changes are too little, too late.

Under the rule, the CMS officially extends Stage 2 of the program through 2016 for providers who were early adopters under the program, attesting to meaningful use in 2011 or 2012. Stage 3 of the meaningful use program will begin in 2017 for these providers, giving them an additional year to meet the more advanced requirements.

The rule also gives physicians more time to attest using older technology. Physicians can use the 2011 edition certified EHR technology or a combination of 2011 and 2014 edition certified product for the reporting period in 2014. All providers will be required to use 2014 edition certified products beginning in 2015.

But the American College of Physicians said the changes are "too little, too late."

Even with the increased flexibility to use older certified products, physicians will be able to attest for only Stage 1 until they have full access to 2014 edition certified technology, according to Dr. Peter Basch, chair of the ACP Medical Informatics Committee and the medical director for ambulatory EHR and health IT policy at MedStar Health in Washington. And that will impair their ability to prepare for Stage 2 attestation.

"Cut-over from their Stage 1 reporting configuration to their Stage 2 reporting configuration cannot be done overnight," Dr. Basch said. "Staffing and workflow changes take weeks, if not months, to accomplish."

And the new final rule does nothing to address other concerns raised by physicians. The American Medical Association has repeatedly called on the CMS to make more significant changes to the program, including lowering the threshold to earn incentives under the program. The AMA has urged the CMS to using a 75% pass rate as the standard for achieving meaningful use, as well as allowing physicians who meet 50% of meaningful use requirements to avoid financial penalties.

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