MU changes boon for doc practices

Easing EHR certification requirements a big help
By Tom Sullivan
11:46 AM
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Things are starting to look up for small and midsized practices facing a barrage of federal regulations threatening to drive them toward acquisition, big bank loans or, even worse, extinction.

First there was the sneak-attack ICD-10 delay and, now, an extension of sorts to the meaningful use regulations.

Indeed, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT late Tuesday revealed a proposed rule to essentially ease the electronic health records certification requirements, Karen DeSalvo, MD pointed at resource-strapped medical groups in particular.

“Steps we are taking today will give new options to those who, through no fault of their own, have been unable to get the new 2014 Edition technology, including those at high risk, such as smaller providers and rural hospitals,” national coordinator DeSalvo said.

Those steps?

The proposed rule would “provide eligible professionals, eligible hospitals, and critical access hospitals more flexibility in how they use certified electronic health record technology to meet meaningful use,” the agencies explained, by letting “providers use the 2011 Edition CEHRT or a combination of 2011 and 2014 Edition CEHRT for the EHR reporting period in 2014.”

In other words: Practices beholden to an EHR vendor to achieve 2014 certification just so they can begin the reporting period need not fret about that any longer. At least for now.

[See also: EHR certification relief on the way.]

That’s because CMS and ONC aim to “change the meaningful use timeline and the definition of certified electronic health record technology (CEHRT),” the agencies wrote in the rule. “It would also change the requirements for reporting clinical quality measures for 2014.”

Against a backdrop of predictions that myriad healthcare providers and EHR vendors would succumb to complexity inherent in Stage 2 and about the effort altogether the proposed rule’s whole point appears to be giving the meaningful use program time enough to succeed.

“By extending Stage 2,” CMS administrator Marilynn Tavenner said in the same prepared statement as DeSalvo, “we are being receptive to stakeholder feedback to ensure providers can continue to meet meaningful use and keep momentum moving forward.”

To that end, the rule also carries a provision to formally extend Stage 2 through 2016 and start Stage 3 in 2017. 

Beyond just small practices, the proposed rule is likely welcome relief to certification bodies, larger providers, and the EHR vendors.

Mandi Bishop, president of FloriDATA Foundation, and a self-described hardcore data geek and patient engagement advocate, said that EHRs aren’t ready for 2014-certification, there’s a shortage of subject matter experts on-hand to help practices comply and, generally, providers are downright frustrated.

Earlier this month, in fact, ONC’s HIT Policy Committee held a workgroup about certification at which nearly every type of stakeholder aired a complaint about meaningful use, EHR certification specifically.

Calling it a “cascading delay effect,” Bishop explained that many of the “EHR upgrades for 2014 MU2 features were tied to ICD-10 capability.”

CMS explained that the proposed changes apply to just 2014, at least for now.

“We are proposing this change for 2014 only,” the agencies noted in the rule. “We will maintain the existing policy that all providers must use 2014 Edition CEHRT for the EHR reporting periods in 2015, and in subsequent years or until new certification requirements are adopted in subsequent rulemaking.”

It’s a safe bet that the proposed rule will take hold, but is it enough time for your practice? Or will you, or your vendors, simply delay the inevitable and still face a future time crunch? Comment below.

This article was first published on Medical Practice Insider, a sister publication of Healthcare IT News.