The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Thursday its intent to modify meaningful use requirements, the notoriously burdensome electronic health record (EHR) incentive and penalty program, potentially making it easier for physicians to meet meaningful use.

The agency said it would “engage in rulemaking” this year to reduce the reporting burden on physicians. The new rule, expected this spring, would address physicians’ concerns with the program, including software implementation, information exchange readiness and other concerns, according to a blog post by Patrick Conway, MD, deputy administrator for innovation and quality and chief medical officer for CMS.

The agency is considering two changes to the program that could affect physicians:

  • Modifying aspects of the program to match long-term goals, reduce complexity and lessen physicians’ and hospitals’ reporting burdens
  • Shortening the EHR reporting period in 2015 to 90 days to accommodate these changes

CMS also is considering realigning hospital EHR reporting periods to the calendar year, which would allow eligible hospitals more time to incorporate 2014 Edition software into their workflows and better align with other CMS quality programs.

Today’s announcement to make changes in requirements for 2015 through rulemaking is separate from the forthcoming proposed rule on Stage 3, which is expected to be released by early March. It is unclear at this time whether the changes proposed in this rule will apply to both Stages 1 and 2 or just Stage 2.

“We hope the new rule will be issued expediently to provide the flexibility needed to allow more physicians to successfully participate in the meaningful use program and better align meaningful use with other quality reporting programs such as the Physician Quality Reporting System and the value-base modifier,” said AMA President-Elect Steven J. Stack, MD. “Additionally, we hope the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT will address problems with interoperability and support technologies that provide the ability for information to be exchanged, incorporated and presented to a physician in a contextual and meaningful manner.”

CMS’ rule also is expected to “propose changes reflective of developments in the industry and progress toward program goals achieved since the program began in 2011,” the blog post said.

According to CMS data released in mid-December, more than 50 percent of eligible professionals will face payment penalties next year because they could not fulfill meaningful use requirements. Only about 3 percent of physicians and other eligible providers had attested to Stage 2 of meaningful use in 2014, highlighting the difficulty of the program.

The AMA has engaged in aggressive advocacy to push for the adoption of solutions to the one-size-fits-all program, as outlined in a blueprint submitted to CMS in October.

In addition, the AMA is building on a new framework for EHR usability that it developed with an external advisory committee of practicing physicians and health IT experts, researchers and executives. The AMA is working with physicians, EHR vendors, policymakers, health care systems and researchers to drive EHR improvements that can advance the delivery of high-quality, affordable care. 

Most recently the AMA and more than 30 physician groups recommended three changes to improve the EHR certification process to make it easier for physicians to use EHRs and care for patients, sending a letter to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

Finally, the AMA has sent  multiple letters to the agency since the program’s 2011 debut asking for increased flexibility.

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