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CMS tried to bury it with a late press release on a Friday afternoon, but their proposed extension of Meaningful Use Stage 2 is already making waves. Initially it seems there was quite a bit of confusion about “delaying Stage 2” when the start date doesn’t change. For those of you who haven’t read the actual CMS release (the site was unresponsive most of the times I tried today), the key point is that Stage 2 will be extended through 2016 and Stage 3 will begin in 2017 for those providers that have completed at least two years in Stage 2.

Clear as mud? I thought so. CMS claims the change will allow it to focus on successful implementation of the Stage 2 requirements and also to allow it to use Stage 2 data to “inform policy decisions for Stage 3.” What does this mean for those of us in the trenches, particularly small practices? Is Stage 2 going to be a “best two out of three” where if you miss in one of the years, you can use a mulligan? Are they going to use the data to see that people are failing and make Stage 3 more realistic? Will they see that people are opting out by abandoning Medicare and make some changes? I doubt it.

If CMS really wanted to make a difference for rank and file providers (keeping in mind that not everyone is employed by a hospital, health system, or large medical group) it would remove the need for Eligible Providers to meet every requirement in an all-or-nothing fashion. Our hospital has an entire team of people devoted to keeping up with CMS and reading all the FAQs. The team subsequently educates the employed physicians. I can’t even fathom what it would be like to be in a solo practice or a small group and to try to keep up with it all.

The release summarized the goals of Meaningful Use. It’s been a long time since I read the initial announcements and documentation from CMS and maybe in trying to keep up with all the details I had forgotten what they were. Seeing them again struck me a little funny: “The phased approach to program participation helps providers move from creating information in Stage 1, to exchanging health information in Stage 2, to focusing on improved outcomes in Stage 3. This approach has allowed us to support an aggressive yet smart transition for providers.”

Really? Aggressive yet smart? In my experience as a CMIO having to coach my peers through this, it hasn’t seemed very smart. Although we’re certainly creating a lot of information, it doesn’t feel like most physicians are using it to do anything other than check the boxes for the Meaningful Use requirements. Why couldn’t we have followed Stage 1 with an outcomes stage directly related to the data collected initially? Exchanging information is important, especially for patients who see multiple physicians and receive care in multiple environments, but putting too much …read more

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