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Marathon of Meaningful Use, EHR Standards Just Beginning

Dom Nicastro and Janice Simmons, December 31, 2009

With the release yesterday of its "meaningful use" definition and standards, government agencies have laid the foundation for an "evolutionary process in achieving and maintaining the meaningful use of certified EHR technology," says Frank Ruelas, director of compliance and risk management at Maryvale Hospital and principal, HIPAA Boot Camp, in Casa Grande, AZ.

CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Improvement Technology (ONC) on Wednesday, December 30, released two anxiously-awaited regulations providing both the definition of "meaningful use" for electronic health records (EHRs) and the standards to improve the efficiency of health information technology used nationwide by hospitals and physicians.

"Both regulations are important in their own right, but they should be seen as part of a larger effort—a more comprehensive effort—to improve the health of the American people and the efficiency of its health system by equipping physicians, hospitals, and other health professionals with the best, most accurate, and most up-to-date information that they need and can use to help their patients, " said David Blumenthal, MD, national coordinator for health information technology, at a briefing late Wednesday.

Ruelas cites the identification of three stages, each with its own set of objectives that support the meaningful use of an EHR. Providers can be eligible for thousands of dollars if they meet the criteria included in the three stages.

The initial set of criteria will focus on collecting data electronically, sharing this data with other healthcare providers and patients, and finally reporting the measures to the government. The second stage of criteria would be proposed by the end of 2011. This will focus on structured information exchange and continuous quality improvement. Stage 3, which will focus on decision support for "national high priority conditions" and population health, would come out in 2013.

For example, physicians must use computerized provider order entries (CPOEs) for 80% of their orders; hospitals 10%, according to CMS' proposed rule.

"This was a very novel approach, in my opinion, because as is stressed in this document, the adoption of certified EHR technology and its meaningful use is more of a process to be developed and adopted over time versus an on/off proposition," Ruelas says. "Oftentimes, people will use the phrase that some processes are more like running a marathon than a sprint. This interim rule certainly gives the impression that we going to be in a marathon mode."

The ONC interim final rule begins to define standard formats for clinical summaries and prescriptions; standard terms to describe clinical problems, procedures, laboratory tests, medications and allergies; and standards for the secure transportation of this information using the Internet.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 required HHS to adopt an initial set of standards for EHR technology by December 31, 2009. This regulation will go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, with an opportunity for public comment over the next 60 days. A final rule will be issued in 2010.

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