Healthcare News & Insights

Meaningful use is ending: What’s next from the feds?

There’s some good news for hospitals that have felt burdened by the requirements of the federal meaningful use program: It’ll be a thing of the past sooner than you may think. In fact, as of this year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is planning to make some big changes that’ll transform meaningful use into an entirely different initiative. 

86536752Meaningful use has been plagued with issues since it was first implemented.

While many hospitals and providers have received incentive payments for meeting the objectives of various stages of the program, it’s fallen short of its goal to make electronic health records (EHR) systems give all providers a complete picture of a patient’s health across the continuum of care.

The program’s also been delayed numerous times for various reasons, including the added administrative burden some requirements have placed on facilities and providers, and the difficulty some providers have had with finding an EHR system that both meets their needs and is certified for meaningful use.

But finally, change is coming.

Per a transcript of comments from Andy Slavitt, CMS’ acting administrator, at a recent healthcare conference (which can be found in a blog post on the agency’s website), the meaningful use program will “be effectively over and replaced with something better.”

Key updates for hospitals

According to Slavitt, CMS has been gathering feedback from physician organizations and other healthcare stakeholders over the past year, and it’ll be announcing a new strategy for promoting the use of technology such as EHRs in health care.

While details are still forthcoming, Slavitt offered a preview of what hospitals can expect from the new program.

First off, hospitals that are worried about losing incentive payments can breathe a sigh of relief. Facilities and providers will still receive rewards for incorporating technology into patient care. But the focus will be less on reporting measures from a checklist and more on improving patient outcomes, which goes along with the growing focus on value-based care.

Additionally, the specifics of technology use won’t be closely regulated by the feds. Instead of receiving credit for using government-certified systems, facilities and providers will be free to customize their own systems. That means EHRs can be more tailored to providers’ specific needs, specialties and scope of practice.

In particular, the feds want to make healthcare technology more user-friendly for physicians. As Slavitt said, “Technology must be user-centered and support physicians, not distract them.”

The new program will also offer more flexibility for hospitals and healthcare providers in terms of taking advantage of technological innovations from start-up companies and other vendors.

Here’s why: CMS will require the use of open application programming interfaces (APIs) in EHR systems.

In a nutshell, open APIs allow different applications to integrate and communicate with each other without limitations. That means it’ll be easier for hospitals to securely pull data from mobile apps and other connected technologies and devices into patients’ electronic medical records.

The use of an open API will go far in accomplishing the last goal of the revamped meaningful use program: interoperability. Eventually, CMS wants all EHRs to seamlessly transmit and receive information so data can be used to paint a clearer picture of a patient’s health for each provider.

On a related note, the agency will start collaborating with doctors and patients to get their feedback on how to take the data from EHRs and use it to shore up weak spots in care delivery, such as ensuring patients receive necessary referrals and boosting patient engagement.

Moving forward

CMS’ new strategy means hospitals should start preparing for a new era where data from multiple sources, including wearable devices and health tracking apps, will be seamlessly integrated into a patient’s official medical record so it can be accessed by a number of providers.

To do this, facilities will have to look at their existing IT infrastructure and see what improvements are necessary to make its technology both more patient-centered and more user-friendly for doctors.

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