Stage 2 meaningful use attestations remain discouraging

According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the number of eligible hospitals that successfully attested for stage 2 meaningful use significantly increased between the start of November and December. Attestations more than doubled within this small time frame, but the small number of attesters is still discouraging to most health care experts.

Stage 2 attestations still low
The federal agency announced that 1,681 eligible hospitals had successfully attested to stage 2 meaningful use as of Dec. 1 during the most recent monthly meeting of the Health IT Policy Committee. This is a significant increase from the previous reporting a month earlier when the CMS announced the 2014 meaningful use attestation figures, which had the number of hospitals at 840, according to EHR Intelligence. 

Although this unexpected increase is a good sign, when compared to the stage 1 meaningful use attestation figures, the stage 2 numbers are still far too low. In addition to announcing the stage 2 attesters, the Health IT Policy Committee revealed that there were a total of 505,641 active registrants in the meaningful use program and that the vast majority were attesting to stage 1. Fierce EMR noted that despite the stage 2 attestation numbers growing over 1,500, this does not mean that all the registrants are receiving incentives

It is a similar story for eligible professionals when it comes to changes between November and December. Even though their month-over-month meaningful use attestation figures have shown an increase, the results are still discouraging when compared to stage 1 users. The beginning of November showed that 43,898 eligible professionals attested for 2014. Approximately 15,481 of them were new attesters and 11,478 were attesting to stage 2 meaningful use. These figures jumped to 60,561, 17,046 and 16,455, respectively, in December.

Why the sudden spike?
EHR Intelligence attributed this shocking difference to the flexibility rule implemented by the CMS to provide eligible providers with more options for using certified EHR technology to demonstrate meaningful use in 2014.

The recent increase in successful hospital meaningful use attestations most likely occurred because the 2014 reporting year deadline for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program is approaching, currently set for the end of December. This deadline was recently postponed by the CMS from Nov. 30 to Dec. 31, which means if it had not been rescheduled, these figures for stage 2 would be even smaller. 

What should be done
One change that many experts believe would turn these numbers around is a reduced meaningful use reporting period for 2015. The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives is one of the many organizations that is trying to push this change on the CMS. 

"Despite policy efforts to mitigate a disastrous program year, today's release of participation data confirms widespread challenges with stage 2 meaningful use," CHIME president and CEO Russell P. Branzell said Tuesday in a report. "It is imperative officials take immediate action to put this critical transformation program back on track."

It is clear that a shorter reporting period is necessary when percentages are shown as well. According to Health Data Management, the numbers show that a mere 35 percent of eligible hospitals currently meet stage 2 requirements with only a couple of weeks left to attest. Meanwhile, even though providers have until the end of February to report their progress, only 4 percent have met stage 2 standards.

The Healthcare Information Management Systems Society has partnered with CHIME to encourage support for their Flexibility in Health IT Reporting Act that would make the 2015 meaningful use reporting period one quarter long instead of the current 365-day period. Organizations are hoping that if the act is implemented, provers and hospitals will be more successful at meeting meaningful use requirements in the future.