Is Meaningful Use Really Meaningful for Small Group Practices?

Posted by: Suzanne Prasad

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What shape will Meaningful Use Stage 3 take and when?

The comment period for the final Stage 3 rules has come and gone. But provider groups and legislative groupsMeaningful_Use_Stage_3.png have been busy spreading the word about concerns they have for the program and what changes should be made.

While some individual providers and small group practices still are struggling to comply with Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use EHR incentive program, they can rest assured that industry groups and vendors have got their back. Leaders from these organizations are advocating for a more successful transition period from Stage 2 to Stage 3.

During the 60-day final rules comment period allowed for the Stage 3 rule groups — which ended in early December groups — many of these groups expressed similar apprehensions about what’s to come. Yep, they are especially worried about the struggles many small practices are having with sharing data with other entities.

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The good news for small medical practices is that these groups issued some pretty loud and clear pleas for help. In fact, they used various avenues to express their discontent and to offer up some proposed changes to the program. Here’s a sampling of how these groups described their concerns during the recently concluded comment period:
  • The American Academy of Physicians, in a recent letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, claimed that Stage 3 doesn’t allow for continued support of the aim of using IT to improve health, provide better care and lower costs. The group called for a pause in the program to focus on interoperability.
  • A coalition of nine vendor and industry groups — including athenahealth, Intel and the National Alliance on Mental Illness — warned Congress that Meaningful Use has failed to meet its goal of supporting an interoperable, connected health system and that the current requirements and pace of the program has taken time and resources away from fixing interoperability. In a letter to Congress, these groups requested legislation be passed that focuses on getting back to the basics of interoperability, such as by establishing a common definition, supporting industry-developed standards and offering physicians access to EHR data before buying a system, among other measures that could assist small practices.
  • A November survey by the University of Michigan published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association reported that only 5% of primary care practice respondents reported that they were likely to share data outside their own network. Respondents listed numerous obstacles to doing so, including difficulty sending and receiving data, complex required workflow changes, financial costs and EHR design and functionality.

“There are many barriers to primary care practices achieving the proposed Stage 3 Meaningful Use care coordination criteria,” the researchers said. “Despite these barriers, there is widespread agreement among PCPs that meeting the criteria is likely to broadly improve patient care coordination. This suggests that we should continue to support and tailor policy efforts to enable practices to overcome barriers to achieving these criteria.”

Meaningful Use Stage 3: Changes ahead?

Fortunately, these interoperability concerns haven’t fallen on deaf ears. Several legislative bodies also have released their take on the shortcomings of Stage 3 and what they plan to do about them.

Some of the recently released governmental findings include:

  • A December report from the Health Information Technology Policy Committee, which advises the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, claimed that financial incentives in Meaningful Use and other programs haven’t been good enough to facilitate the sharing of clinical information among providers.
  • In December, Congress passed a bill that would make it easier for provider organizations — including small group practices — to get a hardship exemption from financial penalties for failing to meet Stage 2 requirements. The Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act offers the changes because CMS didn’t make the final modifications to the rule until Oct. 6 of 2015.

“Congress is taking a giant step in supplying relief to the provider community — and helping patients receive better, seamless care,” says Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.,) a co-sponsor of the bill. “I will continue to keep an eye out for CMS implementation and oversight of this policy to ensure that the administration is sticking to Congressional intent in order to provide relief for the medical community. This process will now allow doctors to avoid erroneous penalties that would have otherwise caused harm for patents seeking quality care.”

  • CMS recently released a revised plan and is soliciting comments for how it will use quality measures to support a transition from Meaningful Use and other incentive-based programs to a new Merit-based Incentive Payment System. The American Medical Association, in a letter sent to CMS on December 15, 2015, recommended flexibility in the new program that would help small group practices.

“Program flexibility is the key factor in improving the Meaningful Use program, ensuring that Stage 3 objectives can align with advanced payment models,” according to the letter. “New payment systems will not work if physicians fail for missing just one of numerous requirements or are held accountable for technological failures outside their control.”

Looking Ahead

No matter what happens with the government’s incentive programs, one thing is clear: The call to implement electronic health records is stronger than ever before. To find out how RevenueXL’s certified EMR and EHR systems can help your practice meet improve care, enhance the patient experience and reduce costs while complying with government directives, contact us today.


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