Organizations Warn HHS: Meaningful Use Program in Jeopardy

AAFP, Others Call for Resetting Health IT Priorities

October 20, 2014 12:00 pm News Staff

Stop, listen and change course to keep the federal meaningful use (MU) program on track, urged the AAFP, the AMA and six other national physician and health care organizations in an Oct. 15 letter(2 page PDF) to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

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The letter came on the heels of a final rule released by HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in September. The coalition of organizations agreed in their letter that the rule did nothing to improve or address the challenges related to interoperability and usability of electronic health records (EHRs) and called for the agency to reset national health IT (HIT) priorities.

"Our respective members believe that the MU program and greater adoption of HIT could promote improvements in patient safety, care quality and efficiency. Yet, based on our collective member experience, we are facing growing barriers to achieving these goals," said the groups.

Changes must be made to the meaningful use program, and HHS must redirect its attention to making EHR systems interoperable, the letter continued. Furthermore, HHS needs to act soon, the groups warned, because otherwise, "The opportunity to leverage these technologies will not be realized."

The letter noted that according to the ONC's own data, less than 14 percent of physicians are able to electronically transmit health information outside of their organizations. Many of the problems, they contended, can be tied to the promulgation of regulations with little thought to the consequences they would have on physicians and the health IT marketplace. Specifically, the creation of strict MU requirements and deadlines that do not provide sufficient time to focus on achieving interoperability are to blame.

Strict EHR certification requirements have kept technology vendors, physicians and other stakeholders focused on meeting MU measures, said the letter, when that creative energy would have been better spent on developing technology solutions to enhance patient care.

But the problems don't stop there, the letter continued.

"Existing systems also lack usability, complicating physician and provider workflows and diverting resources away from patient care," charged the organizations. Those challenges, along with an increase in administrative burdens, have led in many cases to physicians' dissatisfaction with their EHR systems.

In the letter, the eight organizations urged Burwell to take a new approach. They asked that HHS

  • focus on ONC certification requirements on interoperability, quality measure reporting and privacy/security;
  • encourage collaboration among stakeholders to promote the creation of technology capable of handling clinical care needs;
  • withdraw MU policies that limit technology innovation; and
  • acknowledge that vendors who create the technology -- along with physicians who use it -- need adequate time to develop, implement and experiment with any new technology before continuing on with the various MU program stages.

Lastly, "Testing and achievement of specific performance benchmarks should occur before providers are held accountable for any new MU requirements," said the letter.

"Our organizations remain concerned that without changes, the forward trajectory of the MU program will be in jeopardy."

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