Final Rules on 'Meaningful Use,' EHR Standards Released Today

On Tuesday, federal officials announced the release of the final rule defining how hospitals and health care providers can demonstrate "meaningful use" of electronic health records to qualify for federal incentive payments, Reuters reports (Lentz, Reuters, 7/13).

Officials also released the final rule describing the required standards and certification criteria for EHR technology. The new regulation updates the interim final rule on EHR certification that ONC released in January (Mosquera, Government Health IT, 7/13).

Under the 2009 federal economic stimulus package, health care providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHRs will qualify for incentive payments through Medicaid and Medicare.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, new CMS Administrator Donald Berwick, National Coordinator for Health IT David Blumenthal and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin announced the rules during a news conference (Health Imaging & IT, 7/13).

Core Meaningful Use Objectives

Blumenthal said the final meaningful use rule offers health care providers more flexibility than the proposed regulations released in January.

The final rule requires physicians to meet a set of 15 core objectives during the first stage of the incentive program. Hospitals are required to meet 14 core objectives for Stage 1. In addition, all health care providers will need to comply with five objectives out of a "menu" of 10 options (Manos, Healthcare IT News, 7/13).

The earlier proposed rule included 25 objectives for physicians and 23 objectives for hospitals.

One of the core objectives requires health care providers to transmit 40% of prescriptions electronically. The requirement was relaxed from the earlier proposed regulations, which called for a 75% electronic prescribing rate.

Health care providers also will need to enact a single measure to meet the clinical decision support requirement, down from five measures in the previous proposal.

In addition, CMS reduced the number of quality measures that health care providers must report on, deferring some measures to Stage 2 meaningful use requirements (Versel, FierceEMR, 7/13).

Another core objective requires hospitals and physicians to use computerized physician order entry systems to capture at least 30% of medication orders. Under the earlier regulations, hospitals would need to use CPOE systems for 10% of medication, laboratory and diagnostic orders, while doctors would need to use the systems for 80% of such orders (Robeznieks, Modern Healthcare, 7/13).

'Menu' of Additional Options

In addition to the core objectives, the final rule requires doctors and hospitals to comply with five objectives out of the menu of 10 options. Health care providers will need to comply with the remaining objectives as part of Stage 2 meaningful use requirements (Healthcare IT News, 7/13).

One of the new objectives in the menu calls for health care providers to offer patients condition-specific educational resources.

Clarifications on Eligibility

The final meaningful use rule defines a hospital-based eligible professional as someone who performs nearly all services in an inpatient hospital setting or emergency department.

The rule also expands the definition of acute-care hospital to include designated Critical Access Hospitals for the Medicaid incentive program (Health Imaging & IT, 7/13).

Additional Information in NEJM Piece

Blumenthal and Marilyn Tavenner, principal deputy administrator of CMS, offered additional explanations of the final meaningful use rule in a New England Journal of Medicine perspective piece.

In the perspective piece, Blumenthal and Tavenner explain that HHS weighed 2,000 outside comments before deciding on "significant changes" to the earlier meaningful use regulations.

The piece also includes a full list of the core objectives and the menu of options for the new final rule (Hobson, "Health Blog," Wall Street Journal, 7/13).

In addition, Benjamin authored a companion piece that also appeared in the journal (FierceEMR, 7/13).

Next Steps

In January 2011, eligible health care providers and hospitals can begin registering for the EHR incentive program. CMS will manage the registration for both the Medicaid and Medicare incentive programs from one virtual location.

Federal officials expect to release additional information on the Stage 2 and Stage 3 meaningful use requirements over the next few years (Mearian, ComputerWorld, 7/13).

Paula Fortner
This article has been updated to state that the earlier proposed rule included 25 objectives for physicians and 23 objectives for hospitals. -- The Editors
Bobby Lee
Correction on above; the earlier proposal had "physicians" needing to meet 25 measures and "hospitals" 23. Also, they reduced the measures to be met from 25 to "20" for physicians, not 15. It's just that the 5 of "20" can be selected from menu of 10 items.

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