HHS Meaningful Use Final Rule Draws Guarded Initial Praise

John Commins, July 13, 2010

The release Tuesday morning of HHS' long-awaited meaningful use requirements for healthcare information technology drew generally favorable, but guarded reviews from patient, physician, and hospital advocacy groups—all of whom are still sifting through the dense, 863-page document.

David Blumenthal, MD, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology co-wrote in an opinion column Tuesday in The New England Journal of Medicine that the "most important part" of this regulation is what it says hospitals and clinicians must do with EHRs to be considered meaningful users in 2011 and 2012:

In the original proposal, we identified a broad set of objectives, all of which would need to be met. This included 23 objectives for hospitals and 25 for clinicians. The DHHS received many comments that this approach was too demanding and inflexible, an all-or-nothing test that too few providers would be likely to pass," wrote Blumenthal and coauthor Marilyn Tavenner, RN, principal deputy administrator of CMS.

"In the final regulation, we have divided these elements into two groups: a set of core objectives that constitute an essential starting point for meaningful use of EHRs and a separate menu of additional important activities from which providers will choose several to implement in the first 2 years."

Despite those assurances, Steven J. Stack, MD, a board member of the American Medical Association, reaffirmed that the nation's largest physicians' association is trying to determine if the new rules provide caregivers with they flexibility they'd called for during the comment period.

"The AMA and 95 state and specialty medical societies submitted formal comments to CMS on an earlier draft of this rule and cautioned that the proposed criteria for meaningful use was too aggressive and would prevent many physicians from participating," Stack said. "The AMA is committed to EHR adoption that streamlines the clinical and business functions of a physician office and helps physicians provide high-quality care to patients. It is critical that barriers to implementation are removed so physicians can successfully adopt new technology."

Stack said that after reviewing the final rule, AMA plans free webinars in the coming weeks to educate physicians on the requirements for meaningful use and how they can incorporate them in their practices.

William F. Jessee, MD, president/CEO of the Medical Group Management Association, said he was pleased that the federal government acknowledged physicians' concerns in the comment period. "While challenges remain, the final rule provides a better approach to the 'real-world' issues faced by practices as they move toward 'meaningful use' of EHRs," Jessee said. >

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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