The U.S. Congress may step in to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) electronic health record (EHR) meaningful use program, with both chambers taking action on the third and final stage of the program.

Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., yesterday introduced her Further Flexibility in HIT Reporting and Advancing Interoperability Act (Flex IT 2 Act), which would provide more flexibility in the meaningful use program and ensure EHR systems address interoperability challenges. The bill also would pause Stage 3 rulemaking to align it with technology advancements and the new merit-based incentive payment system, which will combine current quality programs.

“This important bill addresses many of the fundamental shortcomings in government regulations that have made many EHR systems very difficult to use,” AMA President Steven J. Stack, MD, said in a statement. “We heard loud and clear from physicians at the AMA’s first-ever town hall meeting on EHRs and the Meaningful Use program that the systems they use are cumbersome, poorly designed and unable to ‘talk’ to each other thereby preventing necessary transmission of patient medical information.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chair of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee (HELP), last week asked U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell to consider a delay in the release of the final rule on Stage 3.

Physicians ramp up calls for changes to program

The action in Congress comes just days after the AMA’s town hall meeting on EHRs and the meaningful use program, held with the Medical Association of Georgia. About 50 Atlanta-area physicians attended the event last week, which was live-streamed to about 500 registrants. Physicians discussed their everyday challenges with EHRs and burdensome government regulations that detract from patient care.

One physician at the event, Albert Johary, MD, who practices internal medicine in an Atlanta suburb, is in his fourth year of meaningful use. He said the program has slowed down productivity in his practice by about 25-30 percent.

“There are so many more things that you have to report on that I don’t think really add to patient care,” Dr. Johary said. “I’m trying to work with it. I think meaningful use is not necessarily a bad thing. But I don’t think [patients] have an idea what we’re going through. To give them a copy of their note, it’s not just printing it … there are four or five steps just to give somebody a copy of their note.”

At the event, Dr. Stack asked physicians to contact their members of Congress and ask them to halt Stage 3 of meaningful use until the program is fixed. The AMA has been calling for CMS to stop Stage 3 to assess how changes to earlier stages of the program will affect physician participation and success.

Visit to watch the town hall meeting, share your stories about EHRs and meaningful use, and contact your members of Congress.

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