On the eve of the ninth annual summit in Washington, D.C., the leader of the country's biggest group of CIOs said he expects a fight during National Health IT Week over the direction of meaningful use.
Russell Branzell, president and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), said CHIME will try to convince lawmakers and federal officials that the latest directives slowing down meaningful use and toughening compliance will set back the adoption of electronic medical records and practices.
Enabling attestation with policy help
"Our job is to educate not only ONC [Office of the National Coordinator for HealthIT], but the 'Hill' as well," Branzell told SearchHealthIT. "Our job is to make sure we do all we can do make sure everyone completely understands the reality of what is going on in the field."
With only a few thousand of the nation's 600,000 physicians having attested to stage 2 meaningful use, and just a few hundred of the 5,500 hospitals across the U.S. attesting so far, Branzell said the pace of adoption of both basic and advanced EHR systems has been weak.
In fact, he said many individual healthcare providers and hospitals are still in the primitive stages of use of any kind of electronic records programs, let alone testing and using more sophisticated measures called for under meaningful use.
Meaningful use watered down?
The main point of contention for CHIME, Branzell said, is the lengthening of the 2015 stage 2 attestation period from 90 days to 365 days. He said he will lobby for the period to go back to 90 days to make it more manageable for CIOs and doctors.
"This is a fight that I'm unwilling to give up on," Branzell said. "We're hearing from a lot of doctors right now that they might give up."
Russell BranzellCHIME CEO
Another recent change allowed providers to attest to meaningful use in 2014 with 2011-certified software, which means providers and vendors not ready with 2014-certified systems can meet easier data collection benchmarks without having to fulfill difficult requirements, such as transmitting secure electronic records.
National Health IT Week will run Sept. 15 to Sept. 19. Its sponsors include many organizations, including Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and CHIME, with participation by the Association of Medical Directors of Information (AMDIS) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Also participating are elected officials and congressional staffers, along with officials of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and ONC.
One session track will be run by ONC, and will focus mainly on patient engagement, interoperability through meaningful use and standards, and clinical safety and quality.
Another set of meetings will put CHIME and HIMSS officials -- along with vendor representatives -- together with federal policy makers, including members of a group of Republican senators behind last year’s "REBOOT" initiative, to re-examine the benefits and costs of the $35 billion meaningful use program, which was set out in the 2009 HITECH stimulus bill.
Branzell said he feels his role in the closed session with the REBOOT lawmakers will mostly be to listen and answer questions.
"There’s a concern out there that there should be accountability for the money being spent and I feel the REBOOT staffers and Congress people are due an appropriate response," he said.
In the wake of recent major security breaches involving Healthcare.gov and the Apple iCloud, attendees will also thresh out cybersecurity issues.
Meaningful use future
And while this year's National Health IT Week will unfold as the Obama administration heads into its last two years, Branzell said he doesn't believe a lame-duck administration will shut down meaningful use entirely.
"I think there is a minority concerned about the viability of the program," he said.
Among others likely to address that issue is National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Karen DeSalvo, M.D., who will be making the rounds at several National Health IT Week events.
Also slated to make public appearances during the week is Jocelyn Samuels, the new director of CMS' Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which enforces HIPAA violations.