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EHR incentive details need work, but meaningful use is here to stay

Expect some delays in the meaningful use program's incentive payments, but don't expect EHR requirements to go anywhere after the five-year program is over, officials say.

The check might not be in the mail for some providers when it comes to the meaningful use program, and many incentive details have yet to be worked out, according to federal officials.

The reimbursements' timeliness has been called into question as hospitals prepare to meet the Stage 1 criteria of the meaningful use program, beginning in January. Officials from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) were on hand during a recent information technology conference to discuss the five-year implementation plan, which they oversee, dubbed the Electronic Health Record Incentive Program (EHRIP). Stage 1 of the program will occur during 2011 and 2012.

During 2011, the first year of Stage 1, hospitals must demonstrate they are meeting meaningful use criteria in a 90-day period of their choosing. If a hospital were to start its reporting with January, it might receive its reimbursement in April, said Barbara Connors, chief medical officer for Region 3 with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). She presented information about the program during the 6th Annual World Health Innovation and Technology (WHIT) Congress in Washington, D.C.

Mandatory reporting is the wave of the future. There's only going to be more, not less.

Barbara Connors, chief medical officer, CMS Region 3

During the second year of Stage 1, however, hospitals must demonstrate they are meeting those criteria in all 12 months. CMS has not announced a date yet when hospitals can expect payments for the second year of Stage 1, Connors said. But because hospitals will need to wait until 2013 to submit data on all 12 months of 2012, they also can expect to wait until then for incentive payments.

The last 18 months spent developing the meaningful use program have shown that, although there are still many operational questions, the concept of meeting and reporting on the use of electronic health records (EHRs) is here to stay.

"Mandatory reporting is the wave of the future," Connors said. "There's only going to be more, not less" as the rollout of health information technology continues beyond the five years of the incentive program.

Mandatory reporting is going to increase because expectations among stakeholders are changing, said Joshua Seidman, director of meaningful use for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, which works with CMS to oversee EHRIP. As technology is incorporated into the health care delivery system, more patients will expect electronic communications, more doctors will expect to use EHRs, and more insurers will expect providers to demonstrate competence in using those systems.

Already, some insurers are considering how to mesh meaningful use reports into their own quality and pay-for-performance programs with doctors, Seidman said. In addition, HHS and state licensing boards are discussing how EHR competency might be incorporated into the licensing process for physicians. Over time, "there will be an expectation that this needs to be done," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Jean DerGurahian, News Writer.

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