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CMS Announces Details for MACRA, MIPS, APM – The Future of Meaningful Use

Posted on April 27, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Seven years ago, Congress passed a law to spur the country to digitize the health care experience for Americans and connect doctors’ practices and hospitals, thereby modernizing patient care through the Electronic Health Records (EHRs) Incentive Programs, also known as “Meaningful Use.” Before this shift began, many providers did not have the capital to invest in health information technology and patient information was siloed in paper records. Since then, we have made incredible progress, with nearly all hospitals and three-quarters of doctors using EHRs. Through the use of health information technology, we are seeing some of the benefits from early applications like safe and accurate prescriptions sent electronically to pharmacies and lab results available from home. But, as many doctors and patients will tell you (and have told us), we remain a long way from fully realizing the potential of these important tools to improve care and health.

That is why, as we mentioned earlier this year, we have conducted a review of the Meaningful Use Program for Medicare physicians as part of our implementation of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), with the aim of reconsidering the program so we could move closer to achieving the full potential health IT offers.

Over the last several months, we have made an unprecedented commitment to listening to and learning from physicians and patients about their experience with health information technology – both the positive and negative. We spoke with over 6,000 stakeholders across the country, including clinicians and patients, in a variety of local communities. Today, based on that feedback, we are proposing to incorporate the program in to the Merit-based Payment System (MIPS) in a way that makes it more patient-centricpractice-driven and focused on connectivity. This new program within MIPS is named Advancing Care Information.

What We’ve Learned

In our extensive sessions and workshops with stakeholders, a near-universal vision of health information technology surfaced: Physicians, patients, and other clinicians collaborating on patient care by sharing and building on relevant information.

Three central priorities to address moving forward:

  1. Improved interoperability and the ability of physicians and patients to easily move and receive information from other physician’s systems;
  2. Increased flexibility in the Meaningful Use program; and
  3. User-friendly technology designed around how a physician works and interacts with patients.

This feedback created a blueprint for how we go forward to replace the Meaningful Use program for Medicare physicians with a more flexible, outcome-oriented and less burdensome proposal.

How We’re Moving Forward

Our goal with Advancing Care Information is to support the vision of a simpler, more connected, less burdensome technology. Compared to the existing Medicare Meaningful Use program for physicians, the new approach increases flexibility, reduces burden, and improves patient outcomes because it would:

  • Allow physicians and other clinicians to choose to select the measures that reflect how technology best suits their day-to-day practice
  • Simplify the process for achievement and provide multiple paths for success
  • Align with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria
  • Emphasize interoperability, information exchange, and security measures and require patients to access to their health information through of APIs
  • Simplify reporting by no longer requiring all-or-nothing EHR measurement or quality reporting
  • Reduce reporting to a single public health immunization registry
  • Reduce the number of measures to an all-time low of 11 measures, down from 18 measures, and no longer require reporting on the Clinical Decision Support and the Computerized Provider Order Entry measures
  • Exempt certain physicians from reporting when EHR technology is less applicable to their practice and allow physicians to report as a group

A full list of the operational differences included in this new proposal is available here, along with more details on how it would work.

These improvements should increase providers’ ability to use technology in ways that are more relevant to their needs and the needs of their patients. Previously established requirements for APIs in the newly certified technology will open up the physician desktop to allow apps, analytic tools, and medical devices to plug and play. Through this new direction, we look forward to developers and entrepreneurs taking the opportunity to design around the everyday needs of users, rather than designing a one-size-fits-all approach. Already, developers that provide over 90 percent of electronic health records used by U.S. hospitals have made public commitments to make it easier for individuals to access their own data; not block information; and speak the same language. CMS and ONC will continue to use our authorities to eliminate barriers to interoperability.

Under the new law, Advancing Care Information would affect only Medicare payments to physician offices, not Medicare hospitals or Medicaid programs. We are already meeting with hospitals to discuss potential opportunities to align the programs to best serve clinicians and patients, and will be engaging with Medicaid stakeholders as well.

This proposal, if finalized, would replace the current Meaningful Use program and reporting would begin January 1, 2017, along with the other components of the Quality Payment Program. Over the next 60 days, the proposal will be available for public comment. It is summarized here http://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2016/04/27/administration-takes-first-step-implement-legislation-modernizing-how-medicare-pays-physicians.html  and the full text is available here https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2016-10032.pdf . We will continually revise and improve the program as we gather feedback from patients and physicians providing and receiving care under the Advancing Care Information category – and the Quality Payment Program as a whole. We look forward to hearing from you and working together to continue making progress in the coming months and years.

Significant Articles in the Health IT Community in 2015

Posted on December 15, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O’Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space.

Andy also writes often for O’Reilly’s Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O’Reilly’s Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Have you kept current with changes in device connectivity, Meaningful Use, analytics in healthcare, and other health IT topics during 2015? Here are some of the articles I find significant that came out over the past year.

The year kicked off with an ominous poll about Stage 2 Meaningful Use, with implications that came to a head later with the release of Stage 3 requirements. Out of 1800 physicians polled around the beginning of the year, more than half were throwing in the towel–they were not even going to try to qualify for Stage 2 payments. Negotiations over Stage 3 of Meaningful Use were intense and fierce. A January 2015 letter from medical associations to ONC asked for more certainty around testing and certification, and mentioned the need for better data exchange (which the health field likes to call interoperability) in the C-CDA, the most popular document exchange format.

A number of expert panels asked ONC to cut back on some requirements, including public health measures and patient view-download-transmit. One major industry group asked for a delay of Stage 3 till 2019, essentially tolerating a lack of communication among EHRs. The final rules, absurdly described as a simplification, backed down on nothing from patient data access to quality measure reporting. Beth Israel CIO John Halamka–who has shuttled back and forth between his Massachusetts home and Washington, DC to advise ONC on how to achieve health IT reform–took aim at Meaningful Use and several other federal initiatives.

Another harbinger of emerging issues in health IT came in January with a speech about privacy risks in connected devices by the head of the Federal Trade Commission (not an organization we hear from often in the health IT space). The FTC is concerned about the security of recent trends in what industry analysts like to call the Internet of Things, and medical devices rank high in these risks. The speech was a lead-up to a major report issued by the FTC on protecting devices in the Internet of Things. Articles in WIRED and Bloomberg described serious security flaws. In August, John Halamka wrote own warning about medical devices, which have not yet started taking security really seriously. Smart watches are just as vulnerable as other devices.

Because so much medical innovation is happening in fast-moving software, and low-budget developers are hankering for quick and cheap ways to release their applications, in February, the FDA started to chip away at its bureaucratic gamut by releasing guidelines releasing developers from FDA regulation medical apps without impacts on treatment and apps used just to transfer data or do similarly non-transformative operations. They also released a rule for unique IDs on medical devices, a long-overdue measure that helps hospitals and researchers integrate devices into monitoring systems. Without clear and unambiguous IDs, one cannot trace which safety problems are associated with which devices. Other forms of automation may also now become possible. In September, the FDA announced a public advisory committee on devices.

Another FDA decision with a potential long-range impact was allowing 23andMe to market its genetic testing to consumers.

The Department of Health and Human Services has taken on exceedingly ambitious goals during 2015. In addition to the daunting Stage 3 of Meaningful Use, they announced a substantial increase in the use of fee-for-value, although they would still leave half of providers on the old system of doling out individual payments for individual procedures. In December, National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo announced that Health Information Exchanges (which limit themselves only to a small geographic area, or sometimes one state) would be able to exchange data throughout the country within one year. Observers immediately pointed out that the state of interoperability is not ready for this transition (and they could well have added the need for better analytics as well). HHS’s five-year plan includes the use of patient-generated and non-clinical data.

The poor state of interoperability was highlighted in an article about fees charged by EHR vendors just for setting up a connection and for each data transfer.

In the perennial search for why doctors are not exchanging patient information, attention has turned to rumors of deliberate information blocking. It’s a difficult accusation to pin down. Is information blocked by health care providers or by vendors? Does charging a fee, refusing to support a particular form of information exchange, or using a unique data format constitute information blocking? On the positive side, unnecessary imaging procedures can be reduced through information exchange.

Accountable Care Organizations are also having trouble, both because they are information-poor and because the CMS version of fee-for-value is too timid, along with other financial blows and perhaps an inability to retain patients. An August article analyzed the positives and negatives in a CMS announcement. On a large scale, fee-for-value may work. But a key component of improvement in chronic conditions is behavioral health which EHRs are also unsuited for.

Pricing and consumer choice have become a major battleground in the current health insurance business. The steep rise in health insurance deductibles and copays has been justified (somewhat retroactively) by claiming that patients should have more responsibility to control health care costs. But the reality of health care shopping points in the other direction. A report card on state price transparency laws found the situation “bleak.” Another article shows that efforts to list prices are hampered by interoperability and other problems. One personal account of a billing disaster shows the state of price transparency today, and may be dangerous to read because it could trigger traumatic memories of your own interactions with health providers and insurers. Narrow and confusing insurance networks as well as fragmented delivery of services hamper doctor shopping. You may go to a doctor who your insurance plan assures you is in their network, only to be charged outrageous out-of-network costs. Tools are often out of date overly simplistic.

In regard to the quality ratings that are supposed to allow intelligent choices to patients, A study found that four hospital rating sites have very different ratings for the same hospitals. The criteria used to rate them is inconsistent. Quality measures provided by government databases are marred by incorrect data. The American Medical Association, always disturbed by public ratings of doctors for obvious reasons, recently complained of incorrect numbers from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In July, the ProPublica site offered a search service called the Surgeon Scorecard. One article summarized the many positive and negative reactions. The New England Journal of Medicine has called ratings of surgeons unreliable.

2015 was the year of the intensely watched Department of Defense upgrade to its health care system. One long article offered an in-depth examination of DoD options and their implications for the evolution of health care. Another article promoted the advantages of open-source VistA, an argument that was not persuasive enough for the DoD. Still, openness was one of the criteria sought by the DoD.

The remote delivery of information, monitoring, and treatment (which goes by the quaint term “telemedicine”) has been the subject of much discussion. Those concerned with this development can follow the links in a summary article to see the various positions of major industry players. One advocate of patient empowerment interviewed doctors to find that, contrary to common fears, they can offer email access to patients without becoming overwhelmed. In fact, they think it leads to better outcomes. (However, it still isn’t reimbursed.)

Laws permitting reimbursement for telemedicine continued to spread among the states. But a major battle shaped up around a ruling in Texas that doctors have a pre-existing face-to-face meeting with any patient whom they want to treat remotely. The spread of telemedicine depends also on reform of state licensing laws to permit practices across state lines.

Much wailing and tears welled up over the required transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10. The AMA, with some good arguments, suggested just waiting for ICD-11. But the transition cost much less than anticipated, making ICD-10 much less of a hot button, although it may be harmful to diagnosis.

Formal studies of EHR strengths and weaknesses are rare, so I’ll mention this survey finding that EHRs aid with public health but are ungainly for the sophisticated uses required for long-term, accountable patient care. Meanwhile, half of hospitals surveyed are unhappy with their EHRs’ usability and functionality and doctors are increasingly frustrated with EHRs. Nurses complained about technologies’s time demands and the eternal lack of interoperability. A HIMSS survey turned up somewhat more postive feelings.

EHRs are also expensive enough to hurt hospital balance sheets and force them to forgo other important expenditures.

Electronic health records also took a hit from ONC’s Sentinel Events program. To err, it seems, is not only human but now computer-aided. A Sentinel Event Alert indicated that more errors in health IT products should be reported, claiming that many go unreported because patient harm was avoided. The FDA started checking self-reported problems on PatientsLikeMe for adverse drug events.

The ONC reported gains in patient ability to view, download, and transmit their health information online, but found patient portals still limited. Although one article praised patient portals by Epic, Allscripts, and NextGen, an overview of studies found that patient portals are disappointing, partly because elderly patients have trouble with them. A literature review highlighted where patient portals fall short. In contrast, giving patients full access to doctors’ notes increases compliance and reduces errors. HHS’s Office of Civil Rights released rules underlining patients’ rights to access their data.

While we’re wallowing in downers, review a study questioning the value of patient-centered medical homes.

Reuters published a warning about employee wellness programs, which are nowhere near as fair or accurate as they claim to be. They are turning into just another expression of unequal power between employer and employee, with tendencies to punish sick people.

An interesting article questioned the industry narrative about the medical device tax in the Affordable Care Act, saying that the industry is expanding robustly in the face of the tax. However, this tax is still a hot political issue.

Does anyone remember that Republican congressmen published an alternative health care reform plan to replace the ACA? An analysis finds both good and bad points in its approach to mandates, malpractice, and insurance coverage.

Early reports on use of Apple’s open ResearchKit suggested problems with selection bias and diversity.

An in-depth look at the use of devices to enhance mental activity examined where they might be useful or harmful.

A major genetic data mining effort by pharma companies and Britain’s National Health Service was announced. The FDA announced a site called precisionFDA for sharing resources related to genetic testing. A recent site invites people to upload health and fitness data to support research.

As data becomes more liquid and is collected by more entities, patient privacy suffers. An analysis of web sites turned up shocking practices in , even at supposedly reputable sites like WebMD. Lax security in health care networks was addressed in a Forbes article.

Of minor interest to health IT workers, but eagerly awaited by doctors, was Congress’s “doc fix” to Medicare’s sustainable growth rate formula. The bill did contain additional clauses that were called significant by a number of observers, including former National Coordinator Farzad Mostashari no less, for opening up new initiatives in interoperability, telehealth, patient monitoring, and especially fee-for-value.

Connected health took a step forward when CMS issued reimbursement guidelines for patient monitoring in the community.

A wonky but important dispute concerned whether self-insured employers should be required to report public health measures, because public health by definition needs to draw information from as wide a population as possible.

Data breaches always make lurid news, sometimes under surprising circumstances, and not always caused by health care providers. The 2015 security news was dominated by a massive breach at the Anthem health insurer.

Along with great fanfare in Scientific American for “precision medicine,” another Scientific American article covered its privacy risks.

A blog posting promoted early and intensive interactions with end users during app design.

A study found that HIT implementations hamper clinicians, but could not identify the reasons.

Natural language processing was praised for its potential for simplifying data entry, and to discover useful side effects and treatment issues.

CVS’s refusal to stock tobacco products was called “a major sea-change for public health” and part of a general trend of pharmacies toward whole care of the patient.

A long interview with FHIR leader Grahame Grieve described the progress of the project, and its the need for clinicians to take data exchange seriously. A quiet milestone was reached in October with a a production version from Cerner.

Given the frequent invocation of Uber (even more than the Cheesecake Factory) as a model for health IT innovation, it’s worth seeing the reasons that model is inapplicable.

A number of hot new sensors and devices were announced, including a tiny sensor from Intel, a device from Google to measure blood sugar and another for multiple vital signs, enhancements to Microsoft products, a temperature monitor for babies, a headset for detecting epilepsy, cheap cameras from New Zealand and MIT for doing retinal scans, a smart phone app for recognizing respiratory illnesses, a smart-phone connected device for detecting brain injuries and one for detecting cancer, a sleep-tracking ring, bed sensors, ultrasound-guided needle placement, a device for detecting pneumonia, and a pill that can track heartbeats.

The medical field isn’t making extensive use yet of data collection and analysis–or uses analytics for financial gain rather than patient care–the potential is demonstrated by many isolated success stories, including one from Johns Hopkins study using 25 patient measures to study sepsis and another from an Ontario hospital. In an intriguing peek at our possible future, IBM Watson has started to integrate patient data with its base of clinical research studies.

Frustrated enough with 2015? To end on an upbeat note, envision a future made bright by predictive analytics.

Annual Evaluation of Health IT: Are We Stuck in a Holding Pattern? (Part 1 of 3)

Posted on April 13, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O’Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space.

Andy also writes often for O’Reilly’s Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O’Reilly’s Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

I don’t think anyone has complained of excessive long-term thinking among health care providers. But an urgent lack of planning has worsened in the past few months as key drivers of the health IT field search for new directions. Given today’s issues with Meaningful Use Stage 3, the FHIR data exchange standard, Accountable Care Organizations, medical device regulation, and health IT staffing, I expect the next several months to be a time of waiting.

This article will look over what has happened during the past year and try to summarize large-scale trends. I used to report annually from the HIMSS conference, the largest health IT gathering in the US, but stopped going because my articles were always cynical, cantankerous, and depressed. So I figure I just write up a cynical, cantankerous, and depressed summary of what’s happening in health IT from home.

Meaningful Use Stage 3: Shoot the Moon?

There are clear indications that the Meaningful Use program has gone off the tracks. I don’t consort with those who disparaged Meaningful Use from the start and claimed that it held back progress in the IT field. What little progress has occurred can be credited to Meaningful Use, because frankly, the health care industry was totally mired before. Choose your favorite metaphor: deer in the headlights (of oncoming disruptive competitors), ostrich in the sand, even possum in the road.

And no one can challenge that Stage 1 met its (very limited) goals. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) just reported that the vast majority of hospitals have attested to Stage 1 (with rural and children’s hospitals lagging significantly). In fact, while defining Stage 3, CMS could remove some of its requirements because they have “topped out,” meaning that almost everybody already does them.

All the sharper is the contrast between Stage 1 and Stage 2, which was supposed to be incremental but apparently broke the camel’s back for many EHR vendors as well as providers, a lot of whom have thrown in the towel.

Interoperability was certainly a big stumbling block. Two different EHRs can claim to support a standard (such as the C-CDA) while not actually being able to exchange data in a useful manner, for reasons ranging from outright errors to differing interpretations of a fuzzy standard.

But the most whining from providers in Stage 2 arose over a requirement that patients view, transmit, or download (VDT) data from a patient portal. Even though providers needed only 5% of their patients to take a look at the site, they complained bitterly that they were being judged for something that relied on somebody else’s behavior (their patients).

The VDT measure is indeed a responsibility that depends on the behavior of outsiders (as are the interoperability requirements). But health providers seem slow to grasp the whole idea of “pay-for-value,” which means they won’t be rewarded in the future for doing stuff–they’ll be rewarded for results. Not that patients will get healthier just by viewing or transmitting data. But we need something measurable to mark progress, and since everybody issues paeons to patient engagement, the VDT measure is a natural one.

Calls have come from around the industry to water down or otherwise “simplify” Meaningful Use for Stage 3. A common request is to eliminate clinical quality measures (such as how many patients smoke) and focus on interoperability, which I oppose.

To muddy the Meaningful Use landscape further, Congress has started weighing in with complaints that the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) hasn’t done enough to achieve its goals. One proposed bill overrides ONC and CMS to mandate changes in health care policy. There are rumors that Congress (who of course created the Meaningful Use provision in the first place) will take it back and do some serious micromanagement, perhaps as part of a bill on a totally different topic, the “doc fix” that is supposed to regularize Medicare payments.

In the midst of this turmoil, the ONC and CMS recently released Stage 3 recommendations, and it looks like they haven’t pulled their punches on a single thing. Interoperability is central, but the clinical quality measures still appear in full force. The requirement that patients engage with the technology has been softened, but still requires patients to take some action such as using a portal or uploading their own data.

Perhaps the boldest stake that CMS put in the ground was to force all providers onto a single schedule in Stage 3, a tremendous departure from the gentle steps offered by the first two stages. This has touched off a provider frenzy. They’ve been lobbying for years to slow Meaningful Use down, and notoriously ran to Congress to delay adoption of ICD-10 disease coding. But putting everyone on the same track makes eminent sense, particularly at this stage. If you’re really serious about data exchange and coordinated care, everybody has to equally capable. Otherwise we’re back to finger-pointing and claims that technology lapses have prevented compliance.

So what are ONC and CMS up to? Are they shooting the moon–hoping to make the big leap to their maximal goals in one bold play? Are they floating an audacious wish list that they know will be cut back in the course of negotiation? Are they even taunting resistant industries to go to Congress, knowing that Congress recently has been making even more radical noise than the Administration about the drawbacks of health IT? Something along these lines seems to be in the works.

To return to the theme of this article, I’m afraid that health care providers, insurers, EHR vendors, and all their business associates will freeze up while waiting for Congress and the various branches of Health and Human Services to determine which behaviors to prescribe and which to punish. So that’s my take on meaningful use–more on other developments in health IT in the next installments.

Looking Back at 2014: Thermidor for Health Care Reform?

Posted on December 29, 2014 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O’Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space.

Andy also writes often for O’Reilly’s Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O’Reilly’s Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

As money drains out of health care reform, there are indications that the impetus for change is receding as well. Yet some bright spots in health IT remain, so it’s not yet time to announce a Thermidor–the moment when a revolution is reversed and its leaders put to the guillotine. Let’s look back a bit at what went right and wrong in 2014.
Read more..

Would Meaningful Use Go Away Under A Romney Presidency?

Posted on August 7, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

We’re now in the final stages of a very closely fought presidential battle, and it’s possible that Republican challenger Mitt Romney will unseat incumbent Democrat Barack Obama.  Usually, I stay far away from such issues, but this time around, the healthcare business as we know it could change depending on who takes the prize.

So far, Congress hasn’t shown much stomach for rolling back the HITECH act.  However, in Mitt Romney, you have a candidate who plans to do whatever he can to repeal President Obama’s health reform legislation. That doesn’t relate directly to HITECH, which is of course the source of the funds that fuel the Meaningful Use program.  However, HITECH is associated with reform nonetheless and could possibly suffer a similar fate.

Given the Republican party’s traditional “hands off business” stance, it wouldn’t surprise me much if a President Romney tried to put a stop to HITECH as well, given that it imposes penalties eventually on organizations that don’t get on board. What’s more, you could potentially label MU an “unfunded mandate” (actually, something both parties target, but seemingly more of a Republican touchpoint) given that incentives don’t come near covering the long-term costs of managing most EMRs.

That being said, Meaningful Use has some genuine momentum at this point, and EMR penetration among physicians is starting to crest. Given that the program does reward those who have already spent (or are committed to spending) on a system,  it might be an unpopular move to stop MU in its tracks.

Also, it’s useful to remember that Meaningful Use is ultimately controlled by HHS, a battleship controlling the most popular federal program in existence (Medicare).  Even a president might think twice before trying to push around the agency that controls the fabled “third rail” of politics.

All told, I think MU is likely to last, even if Romney wins and attempts to roll back health reform. There’s just not enough of an upside for him in this fight, I think. ( John seems to agree.) What about you, folks?

Meaningful Use Stage 2 is Here! Are You Ready?

Posted on March 2, 2012 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

MU Stage 1 has found some slow-moving and grudging acceptance. According to this news brief from Fierce EMR, a good 42% of providers offices have already attested for MU Stage 1, while another 17% plan to attest within the next year. However, there is also a large number – 39% – who have no plans to do so in the near feature.

The reasons cited include changing technological requirements and budgetary concerns. And in the midst of all this drama, CMS is waiting in the wings with Stage 2 Meaningful Use. The Stage 2 Requirements will be published in the Federal Register on March 4 (Here’s a good meaningful use stage 2 summary for providers).

Are we truly ready for MU Part Deux? I’m not sure we are, and I’m not sure that’s the right question to ask. I’m almost giddy with the promise that MU Stage 2 offers – with greater interchange of information, in standardized formats, and public health reporting realizing its full potential. Maybe a few years into the future, I’ll break a leg skiing in the Swiss Alps and my attending physician there will be able to look up my EHR on his local software. I mean Stage 2 doesn’t come with promises of true international portability of data, but getting past Stage 2 will mean we’re that much closer to true health information flow (if we get state exchanges to effectively exchange information or significant benefits to public health reporting, CMS will declare MU Stage 2 a success.)

Even if you think MU is a load of bunk, you can still be an essential part of the process by participating in the comment stage.

Here’s a direct link to MU Stage 2 rundown published by CMS. The document has details on how you can send CMS your comments.

All comments will go on the regulations.gov website. I’m going to be watching that space in the next two months.

CMS to cut healthcare payments by 30% in January 2012

Posted on July 7, 2011 I Written By

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC in 2009. He can be contacted at doctorwestindc@gmail.com.

You knew it was coming folks.   I did, too, as a matter of fact.  And so, as of July 1st, I famously exited Medicare, stage right.  Earlier in the spring, I enjoyed a lunch here in DC at Lauriol Plaza — my favorite Mexican resuarant in the District — with a personal friend of mine fairly high up in HHS who works on MU rules.  At one point, when we were discussing the highly cliche will-they-or-won’t-they cut Medicare/Medicaid payments, he rhetorically stated with eyebrows raised, “Think about it, the money’s got to come from somewhere.”  The clear implication being that it will logically come from cutting from doctors’ payments.

Now, the New York Times reports this post, discussing the compromises that the Obama administration is proposing to make by cutting CMS payments for services to seniors in exchange for the Republicans allowing them to raise taxes to solve the budget crisis.

Suddenly the $44k incentive money for using EHRs is looking quite pale.  E-prescribing for 2%?  Pee-shaw!

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC.  He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC, as a solo practice in 2009.  He can be reached at doctorwestindc@gmail.com.

Quantity vs quality: keeping America’s doctors back with MU regulations

Posted on June 7, 2011 I Written By

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC in 2009. He can be contacted at doctorwestindc@gmail.com.

I read the following post on Saturday over at TheHill.com.  I have to quote from the article here because it’s such a perfect setup for what so many doctors feel about meaningful use/MU.  Warning:  possible ravings of a complete lunatic coming at the end.

“Small medical practices warned Congress on Thursday that health information technology risks being less than useless if it’s designed to meet bureaucrats’ arbitrary standards rather than the needs of doctors and patients.

Testifying at a House Small Business healthcare subcommittee hearing, the CEO of HIT Services company Ingenix said cost isn’t the main reason physician’s offices are struggling to make the switch to paperless. Rather, Andy Slavitt testified, the “purchase and design of technology (…) have taken a back burner to all of the compliance reporting requirements” needed to qualify for federal incentive payments.

“Today,” Slavitt said in written testimony, “the end-users, doctors and patients, are further away than ever from system design, because new product development is focused on satisfying those regulatory hurdles, rather than on simple innovations that improve productivity.”

I could not agree more.  The U.S. federal government, in the form of HHS and CMS, is basically hijacking the doctor-patient relationship by giving doctors extra steps to do during office visits.  The way I see it, if CMS and HHS are so hellbent on puppetmastering the show and making doctors into mere data-reporting automatons — which, I have to tell you, PQRI reporting felt an aweful lot like — then I suggest that they take an even fuller responsibility for providing the healthcare to the patient themselves.  After all, what do they need doctors for if they can practically write the script for the visit?  With the increasing number of MU requirements that have to be incorporated into each visit — to basically “help” doctors “do a better job” — it begs the question “Where will it end?”.  Is it much different from an organized crime boss telling me, “Do this… or we’ll hurt you?”    As MU progresses into stages 2 and 3 — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I can’t wait to find out what my CMS-participating peers will end up dealing with.

It all reminds me that I didn’t go to medical school because I wanted to become a data collector for Uncle Sam.  Call me old fashioned, but I actually like having enough time to to listen to why the patient really came to see me today.  However, for the government, apparently, the numbers are more important.

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC, as a solo practice in 2009.  He can be reached at doctorwestindc@gmail.com.

Meaningful Use Resource

Posted on August 30, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

There are a TON of meaningful use resources for those physicians and clinics interested in showing meaningful use of an EMR in order to get the EMR stimulus money. Here’s one such resource that I thought gave a nice summary of what’s required. Here’s a small sample of the content they offer about meaningful use:

Core Set Measures

  • Use CPOE (Computerized Physician Order Entry) to order medications for more than 30% of all unique patients with at least one medication in their medication list.
  • Enable drug-drug and drug-allergy interaction check functionality on the EHR for the entire reporting period.*
  • Maintain an up-to-date problem list of current diagnoses for 80% of all patients. If there are no problems, indicate no problems are known.
  • Maintain an up-to-date list of active medications for 80% of all patients.
  • Maintain an up-to-date problem list of medication allergies for 80% of all patients.
  • Generate and transmit prescriptions electronically for 40% of prescriptions written by the provider.
  • Record demographics for at least 50% of patients.*
  • Record and chart changes in vital signs for at least 50% of patients.*
  • Record smoking status for 50% of patients 13 and older.*
  • Report ambulatory clinical quality measures to CMS.*
  • Implement one clinical decision support rule relevant to the provider’s specialty.
  • Provide at least 50% of patients with an electronic copy of their health information, upon request, within 3 business days.*
  • Provide at least 50% of patients with clinical summaries of their office visit within 3 business days.*
  • Perform at least one test of the certified EHR technology’s capacity to electronically exchange key clinical information.*
  • For the EHR and its related IT network, conduct a security risk analysis and implement security updates as necessary; correct security deficiencies.*

Menu Set Measures

  • Enable drug-formulary checking functionality and have access to a formulary for the EHR reporting period.*
  • Incorporate clinical lab-test results into the EHR as structured data for at least 40% of all lab test results.*
  • Generate at least one report listing patients with a specific condition.*
  • Send reminders to 20% of all patients, 65 years or older, per patient preference for follow-up care.*
  • Provide at least 10% of all unique patients timely access to health information within 4 business days of the information being available to the provider.*
  • Provide patient-specific education resources to at least 10% of all unique patients.*
  • Perform medication reconciliation at least 50% of the time for patients transitioned from another setting of care.
  • Provide a summary care record for at least 50% of patients for patients being transitioned to another setting of care.
  • Perform at least one test of the certified EHR’s capability to submit electronic data to immunization registries.*
  • Perform at least one test of the certified EHR’s capability to submit syndromic surveillance data to public health agencies.*

*These functions may be performed by nursing, administrative or IT staff

It is expected that EHR vendors will provide the capability to generate much of the above mentioned information within their software and they will also assist physicians in conducting data exchange testing.

Medicaid EMR Stimulus is Voluntary for States

Posted on August 12, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In another great comment from BobbyG (who works for a REC), he talks about the realization that states have the option to opt out of doing the Medicaid part of the EMR stimulus if they want. The following is the full explanation of the discovery and why they’d make such a decision. Plus, it highlights the challenge of understanding all the regulations around the HITECH act.

Here’s just one example of the difficulty you run across. Yesterday we were on a CMS conference call MU incentives presentation in which they said that states’ participation on the Medicaid side was “voluntary.”

We all went “WHAT?! How did we miss that?”

Sure enough: on the CMS website you see “The Medicaid EHR incentive program is voluntarily offered and administered by States and territories. States can start offering their program to eligible professionals (EPs) as early as 2011″

“voluntarily”, “can start”

Not “shall” or “must”.

Now, we knew from the IRF that (paraphrasing here) “there is no statutory basis for the manner via which states disburse incentive payments” but it somehow escaped us that states could simply opt out entirely.

I went back to the ARRA legislation itself (on the assumption that the FR cannot, beyond operational implementation mechanics, mandate additional requirements not in the legislation). Beginning on page 375 you see “Subtitle B—Medicaid Incentives SEC. 4201. MEDICAID PROVIDER HIT ADOPTION AND OPERATION PAYMENTS; IMPLEMENTATION FUNDING.”

You get to page 380 and then only see stuff about the administrative and reporting “requirements” for states getting the “FFP” money (Federal Financial Participation).

And that’s it.

I searched ARRA from beginning to end and found NO explicit wording that states’ Medicaid participation is “voluntary.” You just have to infer it from the Section 4201 language.

What is one potential adverse upshot? Your REC could be signing up a boatload of providers coming in on the Medicaid side, and if your state opts out, well you now have what’s known as “Reputation Risk” writ large (not to mention a torpedo below the waterline in your Ops plan and its milestone payments assumptions).

Why would a state opt out? Because they are only federally funded for 90% of their “reasonable” administrative expenses for the EHR incentive program. They have to find the other 10%. My state (NV) is currently wrestling with a three BILLION dollar budget gap. Similar relative woes exist elsewhere in statehouses (can you say KAHL-EE-FOR-NEEYA?).

You better know where your state stands before recruiting Medicaid providers if you’re a REC or a consultant or VAR, etc.