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Senate Health Committee chairman directs ONC to halt stage 3 of meaningful use program

Stage 2 of the meaningful use program is too complicated. Because of its sophistication, most physicians and hospitals haven’t successfully attested to stage 2 and ONC shouldn’t rush into stage 3 of meaningful use, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) asserted at a U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions meeting last week.

Alexander gave other reasons why plans to finalize stage 3 should halt, including that industry groups also recommend a delay. He also discussed a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that showed meaningful use requirements are interfering with communication between EHR systems. More than half (10 of 18) of the healthcare organizations polled in the GAO report said that attesting to meaningful use redirects resources away from interoperability efforts.

Karen DeSalvo, M.D., the national coordinator for health IT, also spoke at the Senate committee meeting on Oct. 1, but didn’t directly respond to Alexander’s stage 3 meaningful use plea. She mentioned making electronic health information more available, creating a health IT safety framework and simplifying regulatory requirements to cut down on providers’ administrative tasks as the current goals of ONC. Encouraging interoperability, reducing information blocking and promoting patient engagement were also listed by DeSalvo as areas in which ONC can help control how health IT data is used.

Senator Alexander’s comments targeted stage 3 of meaningful use, something that DeSalvo hardly mentioned in her testimony. She brought up ONC’s proposed 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria, but only as it related to improving care coordination and population health. DeSalvo mentioned meaningful use when she shared how ONC tailored part of stage 3 in response to advisory committees’ calls for ONC to use application program interfaces and Health Level 7’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard in its interoperability efforts.

Alexander and DeSalvo both said that health IT should be designed with patients’ needs in mind. “The whole purpose of this [meaningful use] program is to benefit patients,” Alexander said.

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