Stage 2 requirements should be approached holistically

Now that stage 2 of meaningful use is well under way, some health care professionals are wondering how they can optimize their response to the next phase of the industry-wide transition to electronic health records. Throughout the past, some organizations have been content to go line by line through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' guidelines and provide basic documentation of their compliance for incentive payments.

That strategy may not work for stage 2. Several experts at the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference recently advocated for a more holistic approach to meaningful use requirements.

Focusing on interoperability
Healthcare IT News reported on IT consultant Rachelle Blake's presentation at HIMSS14, where she explained that the tactics of the past may not work as well as they did when it comes to earning incentive payments for meaningful use stage 2 requirements.

"It's been suggested that we don't even look at meaningful use in stages," Blake said at HIMSS14. "We'll always have the basic functionality for creating structured data and ensuring privacy and security protections. But then we need to consider how providers can use that data to improve delivery and outcomes. In doing so, interoperability has to be something more than a pipe dream."

Blake explained how incentive payments will no longer be made to organizations that simply buy certified EHR software and link up to a network. Providers and health care professionals must prove that these systems are functioning in conjunction with other systems and are making significant strides toward improving patient care in measurable ways.

Blake recommended that hospitals and small practices communicate with larger providers in order to identify the speed bumps in their networks that interrupt this interoperability. The clinical quality measures that are necessary for EHRs and meaningful use may not rank highly among a physician's priorities. By communicating through these issues, both providers and physicians should be able to find a compromise that, through increased efficiency of the overall system, benefits patient care.

ICD-10 and stage 2 remain as obstacles
Regardless of how connected these systems become, Modern Healthcare reported that fulfilling both meaningful use requirements and the ICD-10 transition is placing a great deal of strain on health care professionals' organizations.

According to a reader survey by Modern Healthcare, only 8 percent of health care leaders indicated that their preparation for ICD-10 was complete. While 76 percent said they were at least "somewhat confident" that they would be adequately prepared come the Oct. 1 deadline, the increasing necessity for EHRs and medical billing software to interact together could lower professionals' confidence.

As stage 2 requirements become more holistic and function-based and EHRs become critiqued not on their implementation but their utilities, health care organizations that wait to prepare themselves may fall behind the curve. As Blake suggested, both small and large practices alike need time to identify and bridge the gaps in their networks before true value can be seen in health IT systems.