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Commentary

'Meaningful Use' Will Keep Healthcare Providers Busy In 2010

Last week, one day shy of its Dec. 31 2009 deadline, the Dept. of Health and Human Services issued its long-awaited near-final rules defining the "meaningful use" requirements doctors and hospitals must meet to cash in on the government's $20 billion-plus health IT incentive programs starting 2011.
Last week, one day shy of its Dec. 31 2009 deadline, the Dept. of Health and Human Services issued its long-awaited near-final rules defining the "meaningful use" requirements doctors and hospitals must meet to cash in on the government's $20 billion-plus health IT incentive programs starting 2011.HHS's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and its Office of National Coordinator for Health IT, which issued the meaningful use-related interim rules, are accepting public comments for 60 days until the final rulings gets published likely sometime in March.

So, over the next two months, healthcare providers--and their IT services firm and vendors assisting in the deployment and/or modification of e-health record, computerized physician order entry and e-prescribing systems--will be combing through the nearly 700-pages of interim proposals to not only get a jump on trying to meet the criteria, but also to provide last-chance feedback to the feds on any proposed requirements they don't like before the final rules get published.

For instance, proposed requirements for healthcare providers to electronically plot and chart growth for patients between the ages of two and 20 make sense in out-patient settings, like pediatrician practices who tend to care for the same children regularly over years, but not as much sense for in-patient settings like hospitals, says Dr. Todd Rothenhaus, senior VP and CIO of Caritas Christi Health Care, which serves more than 600,000 in New England and operates six hospitals in Massachusetts.

In an interview with InformationWeek, Rothenhaus said he thinks the proposed near-final rulings were "faithful" to the intent of the health IT incentive programs but he expects some details--like the growth chart requirement--to change after the feds have time to digest feedback from the public over the next couple of months.

"Tiny details like that might get washed out," after the public comment period closes, he predicts.

Within the two hefty government documents spelling out the details of the CMS "meaningful use" programs and the ONC's "initial set of standards, implementation specifications and certification criteria" for e-health record technology, the feds estimate that the total cost of the Medicare and Medicaid health IT incentive programs will total $14.1 billion (on the low end) to $27.3 billion (on the high end) by 2019.

That includes the rewards paid to doctors and hospitals from 2011 to 2015 for meeting the "meaningful use" goals that become more complex each year, and the "adjustments" to Medicare and Medicaid payments(penalties) for laggards who fail to meet the requirements after 2014.

Meanwhile, a recent survey of 58 hospital executives conducted by IT services firm CSC found that only a quarter of hospitals meet 70% of "readiness indicators" for adherence to the feds' requirements.

Those 50 "readiness indicators" from CSC were grouped into five general categories that include use of a certified EHR product; current use of capabilities required for meaningful use; standards adoption; quality management and reporting; and privacy and security protection.

Hospitals are furthest along in meeting security and privacy protection indicators while their use of required e-health record capabilities are dragging the most, according to CSC.

Have you had a chance to read the feds' proposed near-final rules carefully?

Let us know what you like and don't like, and whether you expect your organization to be ready to cash in on the incentives starting next year.

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