Hospital and physician groups are unhappy with the federal government’s handling of the electronic health record incentive program. So much so that they are asking policy- and lawmakers to take immediate action on recent meaningful use rulemaking.
Earlier this week, a who’s who of hospital and physician groups wrote HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell pleading for a shorter Stage 2 reporting period in 2015 and for more flexibility in how certain requirements are met. Signatories included the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and a bunch of other groups that should carry some weight at HHS.
A day later, Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) dropped a bill that would reportedly hit many of those aims.
Even though it seems unlikely that the bill — called the Flexibility in Health IT Reporting Act — will go anywhere before Congress takes a break this week, its mere introduction might send a signal to HHS officials the degree of unhappiness that industry has for the current Stage 2 requirements.
As Russell Branzell, president and CEO of CHIME told me yesterday, industry groups fought for these changes ahead of the related final rule that was released earlier this month. “The vast majority of associations that have anything to do with health care IT have requested the inclusion of this flexibility … and it was essentially ignored. The fallback to that is in the checks and balances of the federal government you have other options, in this case legislative action,” Branzell said. "With just two weeks to go before the start of fiscal year 2015, immediate attention to this requirement is essential,” he noted in a statement. “There are thousands of hospitals right now desperately trying to determine how to appropriately install and configure software for Stage 2, and how to start collecting data by the end of this month."
Part of the frustration for CIOs with whom we talk on a regular basis is a perception that federal officials don't recognize — or at least take into account — the mounting pressure on hospital IT departments. Beyond meaningful use, they have the demands of converting to ICD-10 as well as ensuring that their systems integrate with and support broader strategies around accountable care, bundled payments, population health and the overall shift to a value-driven environment.
But it's not just hospital execs calling for change. Yesterday, the nation's largest physicians' group issued an eight-point proposal "improving EHR usability to benefit caregivers and patients."
“The AMA believes it is imperative to step back and evaluate and develop new policies and new EHR products that place the EHR in the proper role in the larger health IT ecosystem, as well make the improvement of patient care their primary goal,” Steven Stack, M.D., president-elect of the AMA, said during a news conference yesterday.
You don’t have to be an expert in health IT to recognize that when such a broad swath of health care interest groups gets behind a cause, they probably have a good point behind their argument. Few question the inherent value in adopting health IT systems, but there seem to be legitimate policy questions on how and how rapidly to do so. “The rule is so important for our success, not only in the health IT circle, really in health care transformation in general,” Branzell said.