HHS Issues Final Meaningful Use Rule

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) today released final rules that simplify requirements and add new flexibilities for providers to make electronic health information available when and where it matters most and for health care providers and consumers to be able to readily, safely, and securely exchange that information. The final rule for 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria (2015 Edition) and final rule with comment period for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (EHRs) Incentive Programs will help continue to move the health care industry away from a paper-based system, where a doctor’s handwriting needed to be interpreted and patient files could be misplaced.

“We have a shared goal of electronic health records helping physicians, clinicians, and hospitals to deliver better care, smarter spending, and healthier people.  We eliminated unnecessary requirements, simplified and increased flexibility for those that remain, and focused on interoperability, information exchange, and patient engagement. By 2018, these rules move us beyond the staged approach of ‘meaningful use’ and focus on broader delivery system reform,” said Dr. Patrick Conway, M.D., M.Sc., CMS deputy administrator for innovation and quality and chief medical officer. “Most importantly we are seeking additional public comments and plan for active engagement of stakeholders so we take time to get broad input on how to improve these programs over time.”

HHS heard from physicians and other providers about the challenges they face making this technology work well for their individual practices and for their patients. In recognition of these concerns, the regulations announced today make significant changes in current requirements. They will ease the reporting burden for providers, support interoperability, and improve patient outcomes.  Providers can choose the measures of progress that are most meaningful to their practice and have more time to implement changes to program requirements. Providers are encouraged to apply for hardship exceptions if they need to switch or have other technology difficulties with their EHR vendor. Additionally, the new rules give developers more time to create user-friendly technologies that give individuals easier access to their information so they can be engaged and empowered in their care.

As part of today’s regulations, CMS announced a 60-day public comment period to gather additional feedback about the EHR Incentive Programs going forward, in particular with the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), which established the Merit-based Incentive Payment System and consolidates certain aspects of a number of quality measurement and federal incentive programs into one more efficient framework. We will use this feedback to inform future policy developments for the EHR Incentive Programs, as well as consider it during rulemaking to implement MACRA, which we expect to release in the spring of 2016.

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CHIME Responds to Modified Meaningful Use Rules

Following the release today of the finalized modified rules for the current stage of meaningful use, CHIME released the following statement, summarizing the position of many in healthcare. Overall, the organization supports the modifications, including the adopted 90-day reporting period:

We are pleased that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services today finalized modifications to the current stages of the Meaningful Use program and agreed to extend the comment period on Stage 3. CHIME and its 1,700-plus members agree with CMS that it is time to focus the meaningful use program on adoption of information technology systems that improve both the quality and safety of patient care.

The 752-page rule grants flexibility for providers who are doing their best to not only meet the intent of the federal program, but also ensure the adoption of health information technology that improves patient care.

Importantly, the rule adopts a 90-day reporting period for the current stages of the program, down from 365 days. CHIME has long called for a 90-day reporting period and applauds CMS for adopting this new standard. While several members are positioned to take advantage of this shorter period, others will be challenged to meet it since there are fewer than 90 days remaining in the year. We urge CMS to implement a hardship exemption for those unable to meet this timeframe.

CHIME also applauds the agency for modifying requirements surrounding patient access to electronic records. The rule stipulates that for 2015 and 2016, one patient discharged from a hospital view, download or transmit their electronic record.

With regard to Stage 3, the extra comment period will enable providers, CMS and other stakeholders to ensure that the next stage of Meaningful Use advances interoperability and takes into account new payment models being advanced by Medicare.

Also today, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology finalized a rule on certification of electronic health records. CHIME supports key provisions in the rule that should lead to greater transparency regarding vendor products; improved testing and surveillance of health IT, and an improved focus on user-centered design.

We are reviewing the regulations and will have more detailed comments in the coming days.