|The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), in conjunction with the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced a policy of enforcement discretion to allow compliance flexibilities regarding the implementation of the interoperability final rules announced on Mar. 9, 2020, in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) public health emergency. ONC, CMS, and OIG will continue to monitor the implementation landscape to determine if further action is needed.
“ONC remains committed to ensuring that patients and providers can access electronic health information, when and where it matters most. During this critical time, we understand that resources need to be focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. To support that important work and the information sharing efforts we are already seeing, ONC intends to exercise enforcement discretion for 3 months at the end of certain ONC Health IT Certification Program compliance dates associated with the ONC Cures Act Final Rule to provide flexibility while ensuring the goals of the rule remain on track.” – Don Rucker, MD, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
“Today’s action follows the extensive steps CMS has taken to ease burden on the healthcare industry as it fights COVID-19. Now more than ever, patients need secure access to their healthcare data. Hospitals should be doing everything in their power to ensure that patients get appropriate follow-up care. Nevertheless, in a pandemic of this magnitude, flexibility is paramount for a healthcare system under siege by COVID-19. Our action today will provide hospitals an additional 6 months to implement the new requirements.” – Seema Verma, CMS Administrator
For the CMS announcement, visit: https://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Guidance/Interoperability/index
For the ONC announcement, visit: https://healthit.gov/curesrule.
For the OIG announcement, visit: https://oig.hhs.gov/reports-and-publications/federal-register-notices/index.asp
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the draft 2020-2025 Federal Health IT Strategic Plan for public comment. The draft plan outlines federal health information technology (health IT) goals and objectives to ensure that individuals have access to their electronic health information to help enable them to manage their health and shop for care. The strategic plan was developed by the HHS Office for the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in collaboration with more than 25 federal organizations.
“The draft federal strategic plan supports the provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act that will help to bring electronic health information into the hands of patients through smartphone applications,” said Don Rucker, M.D. “We look forward to public comment to help guide the federal government’s strategy to have a more connected health system that better serves patients.”
The federal agencies that helped to create the draft strategic plan regulate, purchase, develop, and use health IT to help deliver care and improve patient health. Through these efforts, stakeholders such as providers, payers, and researchers are increasingly using health IT tools and systems that can provide individual patients access to their health information, provide for tracking and managing of their health care treatments, and allow for interactions with their healthcare providers. These can include the use of:
- Electronic health records and patient portals through programs like Medicare and Medicaid at CMS, and health service programs at the Indian Health Service, Veterans Administration, and the Department of Defense,
- Data systems to help monitor and pay for health care services, and
- Health IT systems used for public health surveillance and research.
“The Federal Health IT Strategic Plan represents the work being done, collectively and individually, to help ensure that patients and their providers can electronically access the health information they need to help them manage their care,” said Lauren Thompson, interoperability director for the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization Program Office. “We are looking for public comment about ways to expand the use of health IT to help improve the quality of care for people, so that those currently serving in or retired from the armed forces can benefit from a great care delivery experience, along with all other Americans.”
The final 2020-2025 strategic plan will serve as a roadmap for federal agencies and drive private sector alignment. Agency officials will use it to prioritize resources, align and coordinate efforts across agencies, signal priorities to the private sector, and benchmark and assess change over time.
The numbers don’t lie. The meaningful use incentive program is working, at least as far as awarding stimulus funds is concerned. The incentive program awarded “761 hospitals and 56,585 professionals a total of approximately $2.3 billion for 2011; $1.3 billion to hospitals and $1 billion to eligible professionals,” according to Healthcare IT News.
The median payment to hospitals was $1.7 million. According to the same publication, in a recent interview with National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Farzad Mostashari, his top concern is how hospitals and practices embrace the spirit of the rule and use their technology to successfully engage patients.
From dollars to sense. Without patient engagement, meaningful use is meaningless. Without applying the patient information to the population served and working to improve outcomes and offering education and guidance – perhaps creating support groups for smokers wanting to quit or practice-sponsored nutrition plans for obese and diabetic populations – to patients, meaningful use is nothing more than a government-run plan to collect information about its citizen’s health.
Incentives aside, healthcare providers should wish to do no harm and use the information available to fully commit to embracing change through the technology and data available and do what they do best: care for and help provide health education to their patients, their customers.
In other words, to borrow a line from Mostashari, “If you treat meaningful use as work, you won’t get much out of it.”