Dozens of physician, hospital, health information technology (IT) and other stakeholder organizations that are invested in their members' successful completion of CMS' Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record (EHR) incentive programs took a united stand recently in asking HHS to modify program requirements and timelines.
"We fear the success of the program is in jeopardy if steps are not taken now to address our shared concerns," said the organizations in a Feb. 21 letter sent to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius(3 page PDF).
The AAFP joined 46 other organizations in signing on to the letter, which was initiated by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. Among groups signing on were the AMA, the American College of Physicians, the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Health Information Management Association.
The letter noted that during the course of the next seven months, more than 5,000 hospitals and some 550,000 health care professionals would face the prospect of implementing 2014-certified EHR technology and having to meet more stringent meaningful use criteria.
- The Academy has joined dozens of other organizations to ask HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to extend timelines and maintain flexibility in the electronic health record (EHR) meaningful use programs.
- In a letter to the secretary, the groups pointed out that vendors were not ready with the required EHR products, and, consequently, patient safety and the programs' success could be put at risk.
- The letter noted that physicians who could not comply with technology and criteria requirements would incur significant penalties.
"Failure to do so will not only result in a loss of incentive payments, but also the imposition of significant penalties," said the letter. Furthermore, the groups noted, because only a fraction of EHR products certified in 2011 currently meet the 2014 edition standards, "it is clear the pace and scope of change have outstripped the ability of vendors to support providers." That shortfall has challenged physicians' ability to safely transition to appropriately certified EHRs.
"We are concerned this dynamic will cause providers to either abandon the possibility of meeting meaningful use criteria or be forced to implement a system much more rapidly than would otherwise be the case," said the signatories. Either path could put patient safety and the ultimate success of the program at risk.
As a remedy, the letter strongly recommended that HHS
- extend through 2015 the timelines physicians and other health care professionals have been given to implement 2014-edition certified EHR software and meet requirements for meaningful use stages one and two, and
- add flexibility to the meaningful use requirements so that more physicians and other health care professionals would succeed at achieving meaningful use of their EHRs.
"Providers need adequate time to learn how to use the newly deployed technology," said the letter. "If providers move forward, as dictated by the current policy, our concerns regarding rushed implementations are heightened."
The signing organizations called for HHS to give its immediate attention to the concerns and recommendations outlined in the letter. Quick action on the federal level would "maximize program success without compromising momentum," they concluded.
Jason Mitchell, director of the AAFP's Center for Health IT, stressed to AAFP News that it was important for CMS to act in a timely manner. "The meaningful use stage two final rule was written in 2012. A lot has changed since then, but not necessarily in the way that CMS had expected," said Mitchell.
"Time is running out for CMS to modify stage two regulations based on lessons learned during the past two years. The success of billions of dollars of health IT investment -- and the care and safety of millions of American families -- hangs in the balance," he added.
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