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Five ways meaningful use extension affects physicians

In stretching out deadlines for stage 2 and delaying the stage 3 start, ONC benefits vendors, providers and itself.

We continue to see healthcare providers join the rest of the eligible professionals in attesting and registering for Medicare or Medicaid EHR incentives, and most have been able to meet all the requirements of meaningful use stage 1 without a significant challenge. Stage 2, on the other hand, will be more complicated.

The push for a stage 2 extension

CIOs express concern with meaningful use deadline

Many providers not ready to meet stage 2 requirements

Past health IT coordinator doubted a stage 2 extension

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) jointly announced some relief for vendors and providers in the deadline cycle, granting a stage 2 meaningful use extension and a delay of stage 3. Officials said the timeline for stage 2 will be extended through 2016 and stage 3 will begin in 2017 for those who completed at least two years in stage 2.

Vendors, hospital CIOs and other healthcare professionals had mixed reactions. These delays could impact the upgrade schedules for some EHR users, as some vendors could need to recertify technology through ONC in 2015. That could result in rescheduling software upgrades or, worse yet, repeating them. This also potentially means that stage 3 details will not be released soon enough for some vendors to prepare in time for stage 3 certification standards.

The extension's timeline affects providers and policymakers alike. The delay will:

  • Provide insights and feedback from eligible providers and hospitals on how stage 2 implementations fared.
  • Help better define what stage 3 will require.
  • Provide breathing room for hospitals and physicians to focus on ICD-10 initiatives prior to having to execute meaningful use stage 2 criteria right away.

In their announcement, the ONC and CMS also outlined two additional benefits of the delays:

  • Nets more time to inform new threshold numbers for enhanced stage 3 requirements (i.e., it increases threshold numbers for criteria such as patient engagement introduced in prior stages).
  • Gives vendors more time to create and distribute certified EHR technology before stage 3 begins and to incorporate lessons learned about usability and customization in their development cycle.

For those eager to review what stage 3 has in store, it is likely going to be released in the fall of 2014. CMS will likely issue the final rule in the first half of 2015. As for the new certifications, vendors will not be required to get 2015 certification if they are already certified for the 2014 edition. Making this option voluntary for providers makes a lot of sense and allows many to not face more costly upgrades and fees.

Reda Chouffani is vice president of development with Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthITon Twitter.

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