Debate over stage 2 meaningful use deadline continues in Washington, D.C.

Health information technology has become the hottest trend in healthcare reform in recent years. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has encouraged healthcare organizations throughout the country to adopt HIT systems like electronic health records, mobile health applications and clinical imaging archives into their everyday practices. These devices are designed to make running a medical practice more efficient so that medical costs can be kept down without affecting overall quality.

Much of the success of widespread EHR adoption has depended on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' meaningful use incentive program, which offers financial reimbursements for care providers who effectively implement these devices into their practices. With healthcare organizations expected to meet stage 2 meaningful use requirements by 2014, industry and government groups are now debating about whether this deadline should be pushed back to allow for extra preparation time.

Federal government sticking with stage 2 deadline
According to Modern Healthcare, CMS officials have stated that they will abide by the original 2014 date for healthcare organizations to meet stage 2 meaningful use requirements for EHR systems. This decision is significant in relation to the number of calls for stage 2 delays from politicians representing rural areas of the country. These political voices have often stated that the federal government needs to provide these remote areas more time for their healthcare organizations to catch up with EHR meaningful use requirements.

However, Farzad Mostashari, the national coordinator for health information technology, has stated that the federal government does not feel the need to delay meaningful use requirements for rural healthcare systems. His reasoning is that the ONC and CMS have already provided valuable assistant to remote care providers, so there should be little need to push back the stage 2 EHR requirements. Based on these federal efforts, Mostashari estimates that nearly 1,000 critical-access hospitals will be able to meet CMS requirements.

"We're open to the dialogue, but I would much rather see rural hospitals be able to move up rather than falling behind," Mostashari told panel members of the Senate Finance Committee. "A pause in the program would stall the progress that's been hard fought."

Increased pressure to delay meaningful use
While Mostashari has expressed that the CMS and ONC do not plan to delay stage 2 requirements past 2014, this has not stopped opponents from calling for a pushed back meaningful use deadline. Government Health IT reported that senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) – as well as a string of other congressional members – have emphasized a need for delaying meaningful use requirements. These individuals have cited that the stage 2 rules are far stricter than those for stage 1, and many healthcare organizations may have difficulty staying on schedule without violating federal policies. Officials on this side of the debate have suggested an Oct. 1, 2015, deadline instead of 2014.

"The program is reaching an inflection point," John Glaser, CEO of Siemens Health Services, told the news source.. "The requirements for stage 2 are more stringent. "Let's step back, take stock, keep the program going but revise where we need to. Let's move into more centricity on the outcomes and more focus on interoperability, and worry less about whether this feature or that feature is present."

According to Healthcare IT News, the American Hospital Association has expressed similar concerns with EHR and other HIT systems, suggesting that healthcare organizations take their time while shifting to new forms of electronic reporting. In particular, the AHA noted that digital clinical quality reporting measures are moving at too quick a pace, leading to mistakes, inaccurate data and higher costs for healthcare providers.