Stage 3 of ‘Meaningful Use’ Guidelines for Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) Now Under Review

Electronic medical records and electronic health records (look at some of our past entries for an explanation of the distinctions between EMRs vs EHRs) are quickly becoming ubiquitous in the medical field. Part of this is simply a matter of convenience for practices, particularly since EMRs can be integrated with medical appointment software and medical billing systems.

But part of this growing popularity also has to do with government incentives set in place to encourage adoption of EMRs and EHRs; as of 2013, 69% of physicians said they intended to participate in or had already applied for the Medicare or Medicaid Incentive Programs. However, there has always been some difficulty determining what EMRs should be able to do in order to qualify for these programs.

The Office of the National Coordinator has an EHR certification process that ensures functionality and the ability of software to meet specific objectives. But the guidelines that have caused the most consternation are the “meaningful use” guidelines physicians must meet in order to receive financial benefits. There are indications that things are getting better. Between 2010 (the earliest year for which data is available) and 2013, adoption of EHRs able to support Stage 2 of meaningful use as defined by the government increased significantly. But now, Stage 3 meaningful use criteria are being debated.

Proposed Changes for Stage 3

It was reported in mid-January that the Office of Management and Budget had received proposed changes to the Stage 3 rules. Basically, the proposal would relax the all-or-nothing tone that permeated the Stage 2 rules. Many small practices, in particular, had felt that these requirements were Draconian and better suited to large health organizations. The proposed guidelines would also make reporting periods, timelines and structures more flexible. It has also been reported that the OMB wants to create a single definition for the concept of “meaningful use.”

In general, these are good signs that the current administration may ease the burden on physicians, especially those in small practices who have fewer resources to devote to administrative tasks. But there’s still some skepticism regarding whether these new deliberations will resolve all concerns. As Anne Zieger commented for HealthcareDive, “Making rules to define other rules so you can come up with a plan to maybe get something done by 2017 (when Stage 3 is supposed to kick in) doesn’t sound like a winning strategy for an industry that is fighting crises on multiple fronts. Let’s hope regulators get it right this time around.”


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