CMS announces major changes to MU program

CMS announces complete restructuring of meaningful use

The main goal of the meaningful use program is to encourage the use of electronic health records to establish higher quality patient care. Many industry experts believe that, as this goal has been met – the vast majority of providers across the sector now use EHRs – the MU program is no longer necessary. Andy Slavitt, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, recently announced that, in response to this popular opinion, the CMS will be restructuring the MU program. 

MU program to undergo major changes
At the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Slavitt explained to his audience that the MU program will undergo some pretty major updates. For example, he noted that the primary focus of the program will no longer be enforcing government standards, but meeting the needs of providers and their staff. He hopes that these provider-focused changes will allow EHR vendors to better customize software to their clients' needs without having to worry about catering the design to federal regulations. The third modification will include a greater focus on interoperability. So far, several industry stakeholders have celebrated the proposed updates.

Slavitt pointed out that this overhaul will put providers in the driver's seat, where they should be.

"Our role is actually much more minor," Slavitt explained in his announcement, according to EHR Intelligence. "Our role is simply to say, 'for the things that you want to accomplish, if you accomplish them on behalf of our beneficiaries, you ought to get rewarded.' So we're not the driver; we really are there to reinforce the things physicians should want to do."

Many key organizations and stakeholders have expressed their approval of the modifications announced by Slavitt. Peter Basch, M.D. and Thomson Kuhn, senior systems architect and senior associate at American College of Physicians, recently stated in a post that the current MU regulations will no longer benefit the industry and that the CMS's plans to alter the programs is necessary.

"That said, we do believe that a stand-alone MU program should end in 2018, and a very different and more appropriate MU program should emerge in 2019 for those clinicians participating in the MIPS program," Basch and Kuhn explained. "Our recommendation is thus not a delay in finalizing Stage 3, but rather a transition from Stage 2 to implementation of MIPS in 2019, with a more appropriate and integrated MU component."

They noted that the changes would provide much needed flexibility and allow for EHR innovation. The pair agreed that the main benefit of the updates is that they will put more control into the hands of providers.

CMS receives update suggestions
Basch and Kuhn made several suggestions they thought would further improve the MU programs. Many of the recommendations overlapped the goals announced by Slavitt, such as the push for increased clinician engagement and enhanced interoperability. 

They also underscored how crucial it is that the CMS recover physician trust and buy-in for the MU programs after a rocky past. The MU overhaul will help make working with a government health IT program less daunting and more desirable. Agreeing with Slavitt, Basch and Kuhn explained that it is important that the government win back the hearts and minds of providers. 

"If this approach is taken now, it may not be too late to turn around clinician anger and disengagement," Basch and Kuhn stated. "Clinicians engaged with meaningful and helpful health IT will be better prepared for the future of health care delivery."

Basch and Kuhn are not the only industry stakeholders who have addressed the future of the MU programs. Slavitt's announcement came at a good time, as many hospitals and organizations, such as the College of Health Information Management Executives, have expressed the need for a major shift in the MU programs if they are going to benefit the sector.