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Eyes Wide Shut: Meaningful Use Stage 2 Incentive Program Hardships

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In my January update on Meaningful Use Stage 2 readiness, I painted a dismal picture of a large IDN’s journey towards attestation, and expressed concern for patient safety resulting from the rush to implement and adopt what equates to, at best, beta-release health IT. Given the resounding cries for help from the healthcare provider community, including this February 2014 letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, I know my experience isn’t unique. So, when rumors ran rampant at HIMSS 2014 that CMS and the ONC would make a Meaningful Use announcement, I was hopeful that relief may be in sight.

Like AHA , I was disappointed in CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner’s announcement. The new Stage 2 hardship exemptions will now include an explicit criteria for “difficulty implementing 2014-certified EHR technology” – a claim which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and may result in a delay of the penalty phase of the Stage 2 mandate. But it does nothing to extend the incentive phase of Stage 2 – without which, many healthcare providers would not have budgeted for participation in the program, at all, including the IDN profiled in this series. So how does this help providers like mine?

Quick update on my IDN’s progress towards Stage 2 attestation, with $MM in target incentive dollars at stake. We must meet ALL measures; there is no opportunity to defer one. The Transition of Care (both populating it appropriately, and transmitting it via Direct) is the primary point of concern.

The hospital EHR is ready to generate and transmit both Inpatient Summary and Transition of Care C-CDAs. The workflow to populate the ToC required data elements adds more than 4 minutes to the depart process, which will cause operational impacts. None of the ambulatory providers in the IDN have Direct, yet; there is no one available to receive an electronic ToC. Skilled resources to implement Direct with the EHR upgrades are not available until 6-12 weeks after each upgrade is complete.

None of the 3 remaining in-scope ambulatory EHRs have successfully completed their 2014 software upgrades. 2 of the 3 haven’t started their upgrades. 1 has not provided a DATE for the upgrade.

None of the ambulatory EHRs comes with a Clinical Summary C-CDA configured out-of-the-box. 1 creates a provider-facing Transition of Care C-CDA, but does not produce the patient-facing Clinical Summary. (How did this product become CEHRT for 2014 measures?) Once the C-CDA is configured, each EHR requires its own systems integrator to develop the interface to send the clinical document to an external system.

Consultant costs continue to mount, as each new wrinkle arises. And with each wrinkle, the ability to meet the incentive program deadlines, safely, diminishes.

Playing devil’s advocate, I’d say the IDN should have negotiated its vendor contracts to include penalty clauses sufficient to cover the losses of a missed incentive program deadline – or, worst case scenario, to cover the cost of a rip-and-replace should the EHR vendor not acquire certification, or have certification revoked. The terms and conditions should have covered every nuance of the functionality required for Stage 2 measures.

But wait, CMS is still clarifying its Stage 2 measures via FAQs. Can’t expect a vendor to build software to specifications that weren’t explicitly defined, or to sign a contract that requires adherence to unknown criteria.

So, what COULD CMS and the ONC do about it? How about finalizing your requirements BEFORE issuing measures and certification criteria? Since that ship’s already sailed, change the CEHRT certification process.

1. Require vendors to submit heuristics on both initial implementation and upgrades, indicating the typical timeline from kick-off to go-live, number of internal and external resources (i.e., third-party systems integrators), and cost.
2. Require vendors to submit customer-base profile detailing known customers planning to implement and/or upgrade within calendar year. AND require implementation/upgrade planning to incorporate 3 months of QA time post-implementation/upgrade, prior to go-live with real patients.
3. Require vendors to submit human resource strategy, and hiring and training program explicitly defined to support the customer-base profile submitted, with the typical timeframes and project resource/cost profiles submitted.
4. Require vendor products to be self-contained to achieve certification – meaning, no additional third-party purchase (software or professional services) would be necessary in order to implement and/or upgrade to the certified version and have all CMS-required functionality.
5. Require vendor products to prove the CEHRT-baseline functionality is available as configurable OOTB, not only available via customization. SHOW ME THE C-CDA, with all required data elements populated via workflow in the UI, not via some developer on the back-end in a carefully-orchestrated test patient demo script.
6. Require vendor products adhere to an SLA for max number of clicks required to execute the task. It is not Meaningful Use if it’s prohibitively challenging to access and use in a clinical setting.

Finally, CMS could redefine the incentive program parameters to include scenarios like mine. Despite the heroic efforts being made across the enterprise, this IDN is not likely to make it, with the fault squarely on the CEHRT vendors’ inability to deliver fully-functional products in a timely manner with skilled resources available to support the installation, configuration, and deployment. Morale will significantly decline, next year’s budget will be short the $MM that was slated for further health IT improvements, and the likelihood that it will continue with Stage 3 becomes negligible. Vendor lawsuits may ensue, and the incentive dollar targets may be recouped, but the cost incurred by the organization, its clinicians, and its patients is irrecoverable.

Consider applying the hardship exemption deadline extension to the incentive program participants.

March 5, 2014 I Written By

Mandi Bishop is a healthcare IT consultant and a hardcore data geek with a Master's in English and a passion for big data analytics, who fell in love with her PCjr at 9 when she learned to program in BASIC. Individual accountability zealot, patient engagement advocate, innovation lover and ceaseless dreamer. Relentless in pursuit of answers to the question: "How do we GET there from here?" More byte-sized commentary on Twitter: @MandiBPro.

Healthcare Groups Want Meaningful Use Evaluated Before Stage 3

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Though the final rules for Meaningful Use Stage 3 aren’t due to take effect until 2016, ONC has already made the draft rules available for public comment.  And comments, to be sure, the agency is getting.

While various groups have chosen their own details to critique, the general consensus seems to be that ONC is getting ahead of itself and ought to give Meaningful Use Stage 1 and 2 a good hard look first.

Accordng to a nice summary from iHealthBeat, here’s where some of the major healthcare groups stand:

* The American Hospital Association is recommending that ONC fund a comprehensive evaluation of MU generally, and while it does, hold off on finalizing Stage 3 recommendations.

*  CHIME, too, is asking ONC to evaluate the existing Meaningful Use program to decide whether achieving stage 3 is realistically possible by 2016.

* The Federation of American Hospitals is also arguing that ONC needs to evaluate current Meaningful Use requirements.  Also, in its letter to ONC, the group argues that the existing structure of two years per stage doesn’t cut it.

* The AMA weighed in with its own recommendation that ONC evaluate Meaningful Use as is before moving ahead. It also suggested changing some thresholds to  make them more reachable; greater flexibility in program requirements; change the certification process to address usability; and improve HIT’s capability to share patient data.

Personally, I think the idea of doing an extensive Meaningful Use evalulation sounds like a good one, and I hope ONC actually does so.  When you’re setting new standards that affect so many providers, why not gather some data on how existing standards work?

January 16, 2013 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.