Racing toward Meaningful Use: Using a 2014 Edition Certified Technology Vendor is Vital for MU Attestation

Christina Caraballo
Christina Caraballo

Guest post by Christina Caraballo, MBA, Get Real Health.

Hospitals and eligible professionals that have yet to meet their meaningful use requirements are facing a good news/bad news scenario. First the bad news: The clock is ticking, as major deadlines loom. The good news: It’s not too late to hop aboard the MU train, although some running might be required. If you’re among those seeking MU attestation this year, here are key points you need to know.

2014 Certified?

Before you take one more step, make sure your technology vendor is 2014 certified. Regardless of whether you are attesting to meaningful use Stage 1 or Stage 2, all eligible professionals (EPs) and eligible hospitals (EHs)/Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) are now required to use an ONC 2014 Edition Certified technology to successfully attest to both MU1 and MU2.

You might have been under the impression that Stage 1 corresponds with the 2011 Edition and Stage 2 corresponds to the 2014 Edition. This is not the case, but your confusion is understandable.

What happened? When meaningful use was first introduced, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published MU Stage 1 and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) published the 2011 Edition Certification; then MU Stage 2 and the 2014 Edition Certification Criteria were released within days of one another.

Here’s a quick break-down of the new timetable:

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End User Adoption Requires Innovation and Usefulness Beyond Simply Meeting Meaningful Use Standards

Andy Nieto

Guest post by Andy Nieto, health IT strategist, DataMotion.

The HITECH Act’s goal of improving clinical outcomes for patients using technology through meaningful use is admirable and quite overdue. However, where the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), and to a much greater extent, electronic health records (EHR), have missed the mark is in the deployment and execution.

The stated goal of meaningful use Stage 1 (MU1) was to deploy, integrate and use EHRs to gather and document “structured and coded” healthcare data. Rather than take ONC’s directives as a framework to improve provider care tools, they viewed it as a “minimum requirement” and missed the spirit of the initiative. EHRs remain cumbersome, challenging and inefficient.

Providers now spend more time clicking boxes and typing than they do speaking to their patients. To make matters worse, the data gathered is maintained in the EHR’s “unique” way, making exchange and interaction challenging and interfaces costly.

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Navigating the Challenge of Meeting Meaningful Use Stage 2

Shameem Hameed

Guest post by Shameem C. Hameed, Chairman of ZH Healthcare

Nearly a thousand developers of health information technology produced and certified their products for meaningful use Stage 1 (MU1) criteria, but according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) fewer than 80 have passed certification for meaningful use Stage 2 (MU2).

Why is the challenge of meeting meaningful use Stage 2 much more difficult, and why are many finding it to be a more rigorous certification process? To start, the requirements are more complex, and vendors are facing challenges in building solutions that are truly interoperable – which is the goal that all EMR/EHR vendors are pursuing as they upgrade their software to meet MU2 requirements. 

While MU1 required that patient data be shared with patients or other healthcare professionals, MU2 has more in-depth requirements for sharing that data using advanced document architecture. EHR software needs to electronically connect and securely share data with patients, other practices, laboratories, hospitals, etc. Challenges arise for vendors when trying to build software that will easily integrate with other proprietary clinical systems. This means working with those other entities on their time frame. Because of the large number of EMR systems that need access to these entities, prioritization of these interface requests have led to long wait times and in turn, further delay certification progress.

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EHR Experiences: Dr. Lucy Hornstein, Valley Forge Family Practice

Dr. Lucy Hornstein
Dr. Lucy Hornstein

Dr. Lucy Hornstein, solo practitioner at Valley Forge Family Practice in Phoenixville, Penn., was not a proponent of electronic health records. An active physician blogger and published writer, she spent quite a few of her words on the technology’s uselessness.

They were expensive, overly complicated and tough to use and provided little return on the investment for users. Besides, most physicians, in her opinion, only implemented them because of meaningful use and the federal incentives they received for using them.

Paper, she had long decided, was good enough for her and during the first 21 years of practice in her own practice, she had no plans to change. It was only after the loss of one of her two staff members that she soon realized that she’d have to re-hire just to maintain her practice at its current load. However, that wasn’t an option for her. Neither, she thought, was adding an EHR to handle the management of the records because other than her perception of the technology, the self-described “dinosaur” didn’t have the budget for such an endeavor. She had zero for such technology.

Even if she had a change of heart and adopted the technology, she had not seen one system that was not cumbersome, not hard to use, intuitive to maneuver and or that offered her the option to meet the needs of her small practice while running the business efficiently.

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Meaningful Use Fatigue?: Program Seems More Like Long-term Payday Loan than Professional Initiative

I can’t think of a more obvious statement than the one recently made by Impact Advisor principal Laura Kreofsky, who said recently that everyone in healthcare is going to hit a wall in a year or two and fatigue is going to settle in regarding meaningful use.

By 2015, we’re all going to be sick and tired of meaningful use.

I already am.

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Results of the 24th Annual HIMSS Leadership Survey: Health IT Remains Strong

Along with HIMSS’ largest money maker of the year — its annual conference — it’s also time for the results of its annual leadership survey.

While the results, which are reflected in the infographic below, are certainly interesting there is one point that seems to raise a flag immediately.

Prior to that, however, let’s take a quick look at the results. Accordingly, about 66 percent of the all health IT leaders say their organization qualified for meaningful use Stage 1 and 75 percent of the same folks expect to qualify for Stage 2. Additionally, nearly 90 percent of those who took the survey say they be ready for the ICD-10 switch later this year.

As such, there’s quite a need to hire new IT folks to carry the torch.

Next, it appears that nearly 20 percent of respondents said their health systems’ security was breech (at least those who admitted as much) and that 22 percent of said security was a priority for the coming year, which should be the case if 20 percent of them faced a security issue.

I understand the scope of the survey and who its respondents are, but doesn’t it strike anyone else as slightly odd that all of the changes to come are related to the IT? All, or much, of the reform is designed to engage patients and bring them closer to their care providers? Shouldn’t it be implemented to help improve outcomes and to drive better results and make the system more fluid? I guess IT is going to be what get’s us there.  But along the way, couldn’t more be done at the care level as well as the IT level? Could some of the hiring take place to serve patients rather than the practice?

I digress. Apparently, for now, we’ll have to be thankful that all of this change is leading to improved job growth and fixes to the breeches that await us.

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Will Lack of Patient Engagement Cost Physicians Their Stage 2 Incentives? Yes, It’s Possible

Meaningful use stage 2 is moving in the direction of patient engagement. The next phase in the federal incentive program sets the bar for it, but certainly doesn’t leave it here. Certainly, patients were part of stage 1, but now, they must take greater ownership of their care; probably one of the only ways we’ll actually see the needle move in regard to long-term health outcomes changes for the population.

Engagement of the patients, it is believed, will move all patients toward better choices and possibly healthier lifestyles, which obviously makes for a healthier population.

But given all of the rhetoric on the subject, and the fact that each of us is subjective, aren’t we really talking about something rather subjective?

Say what?

Let me try to put it in terms that even I can understand: everyone talks about how patients must be more engaged – at the practice level, at the provider level and even at the vendor level (which is my belief) – but when it’s actually time to involve patients in their care, how is this done?

Well, one of the most popular answers is through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Bringing, or participating in, conversations about healthcare and interacting with patients online is considered to be a highly effective ways of reaching a broad audience, building a healthcare community, and educating and engaging patients.

But not everyone feels social media is the silver bullet. For example, I recently spoke with IDC Health Insights’ research director, Judy Hanover, who during our conversation said she thinks the healthcare community has become too infatuated with social media. She doesn’t see it as a truly effective means for engaging patients long term.

Certainly, social media has its place in building the physician/patient relationship, but its is limiting. Except for a very few people who like and want to share their personal health records online, most of us just don’t care to go into the specifics of our conditions in such a public forum.

So, the debate returns to healthcare information technology and the patient portal.

Online portals are designed to give patients anytime access to their health information. From a provider and vendor perspective, these tools have a great deal to do with meeting stage 2. For the patients, too, I suppose.

With the requirement that provider given patients access to online health information for viewing, downloading and transferring, and a second threshold requiring providers to push patient usage of this technology, it’s obvious the portal is a powerful player in this game.

I’ve written in the past about this issue and how the burden falls on the provider to engage patients through the portal to essentially secure incentive payments for stage 2.

Some do worry about their ability to meet the patient engagement requirement. I can imagine practices in rural areas or those that serve an older population may have some concerns.

Relying on a patient action to secure your incentive, especially after all of the work taken to meet the remainder of the MU requirements may seem like a blow to some. It would to me since my personality is one in which I like to have control of a project and not have to worry about outliers potentially derailing my progress (this sort of thing happens all of the time in school on group projects, right?)

So, how we do avoid this and encourage patients to use the portal?

What’s probably the best summation I’ve come across on the subject is in an interview Physicians Practice’s Aubrey Westgate conducted with Peter M. Kilbridge, a senior research director with The Advisory Board Company’s Information Technology. You can listen to it here.

Kilbridge’s perspective is valuable, and the tips he provides are easily accomplishable.

For example, to encourage use of the patient portal, practices should tell patients about it, and simply encourage them to use it and to talk about its capabilities. Highlight the portal’s capabilities, he says, and what it can do for patients and how it can make their live easier.

He says to highlight functions patients care about: viewing labs, sending questions, scheduling appointments. Follow it up by sending an email and paper mail reminder during about the upcoming visits or reminder

“Early success breeds confidence,” said Peter Kilbridge.

Still, the patients are truly empowered in stage 2, and all of the work invested on the part of the healthcare community might seem like it’s trivialized by the requirement needed to secure incentives.

This issue is being looked into, but currently there is no exception in place.

Is losing your incentive for stage 2 the price you’ll pay for lack of patient engagement? It certainly is a possibility?