Moving the Meaningful Use Needle

From vendors to physicians, there seems to be one thing in common: confusion. Seemingly, we’ve entered the world of “Where do we go from here?” After paying out more than $19 billion in incentives since its inception and another announcement in February from CMS that there will be no more delays in Stage 2 – an announcement made from, of all places, HIMSS, here we are at the threshold of another postponement.

CMS is extending Stage 2 through 2016, a year more than originally and publically planned. The extension means that vendors not able to implement 2014 certified EHRs for the providers it serves gives said vendors another year to do so. In addition, providers using 2011 certified systems can continue to do so and can satisfy Stage 1 even if they should be moving into Stage 2.

CMS’ extension seems to continue a pattern; possibly a tip to the hat of the vendor community. However, even though meaningful use has likely hindered health IT technology enhancement and innovation — as some suggest – seemingly, this delay further hampers IT development for the companies that are or have been struggling to meet the new rules and regulations.

From a providers’ perspective, though, many are wondering what to do now: Stay with their current vendor and hope to meet the deadlines of the new rule; switch technologies and hope for the best in the future; try to re-focus efforts and work more diligently with their vendor partners; or do nothing. Confusing as this is for caregivers and their practice administrators, in many ways they are left to leave their confidence in the hands of vendor partners who may support, and embrace, the CMS extension.

There was a likely a clear need for the extension, and CMS likely saw what began as a good-intentioned program beginning to slip into a possible boondoggle. So, to avoid all-out chaos, the folks at CMS decided to take action and protect all parties involved, or at least attempt to do so. But as pointed out by vendor athenahealth, the “Leniency (of CMS) was actually already provided through expanded hardship exemptions that would grant a penalty exemption (not meeting meaningful use now comes with a financial penalty) to providers struggling to implement a 2014 certified EHR because of problems with their vendor … the leniency that came from hardship exemptions would benefit from an infusion of transparency and equity. By allowing providers to also stick with Stage 1 requirements as part of the new ‘rule,’ CMS is now agreeing to actively subsidize, with billions of taxpayer dollars, technology that everyone acknowledges cannot achieve the overarching goals of the meaningful use program.”

Jim Tate, a well-known meaningful use expert, adds that meaningful use is beginning to grow in such complicated proportions that disbelief in the provider community is setting in. “What was true one week is not true the next. Time lines have been extended and penalty exemptions have been expanded, all well and good, but it is not enough to quell the confusion and doubt that is now surfacing. Even the rock solid concept of certified electronic healthcare technology (CEHRT) seems to be losing focus,” Tate recently wrote.

Is there concern among the healthcare community that providers may be shying away from meaningful use? Buy in and direction may be needed now more than anything, before the program’s goals are lost. And with all the fixes, changes in direction and re-capitulating, the next time something like this happens there may be no one left to listen.

Ultimately, what’s at stake here is a connected, engaged and interoperable healthcare system.

Nevertheless, no matter what happens with meaningful use – recalculations and recalibrations – Alego Health is here to support the needs of all its clients, to successful attestation or on the path that best suites them.

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