Meaningful Use Program Finished, CMS Head Says

Health care executives express relief

Andy Slavitt, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), has announced that the agency “has the opportunity” to sunset the meaningful use program in 2016.

“Programs designed to improve often distract,” Salvitt said in a public statement. “Done poorly, measures are divorced from how physicians practice and add to the cynicism that people who build these programs just don’t get it.

“The meaningful use program, as it has existed, will now be effectively over and replaced with something better.”

The CMS is moving away from rewarding providers for the use of technology and toward the outcomes they achieve with their patients, Slavitt said. One way of doing this is by leveling the technology playing field for start-ups and new entrants.

“We are requiring open APIs [application programming interfaces] in order that the physician desktop can be opened up and move away from the lock that early EHR [electronic health record] decisions placed on physician organizations. [That will] allow apps, analytic tools, and connected technologies to get data in and out of an EHR securely,” he said.

In addition, Slavitt said, “providers will be able to customize their goals so tech companies can build around the individual practice needs, not the needs of the government. Technology must be user-centered and support physicians, not distract them.”

In comments to HealthLeaders Media, Marc Probst, chief information officer (CIO) at Intermountain Healthcare, expressed skepticism that the CMS can simply stop the meaningful use program in its tracks. “It’s going to be a little more difficult to unravel than just saying we’re stopping and moving over to MACRA [Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act], or whatever,” he said.

Probst noted that Slavitt’s remarks allow health systems to turn to more-pressing information technology priorities. In Probst's case, it is completing three-fourths of Intermountain’s conversion to the Cerner EHR system. Meaningful use is “not our main strategy anymore,” he said.

John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, predicted that the CMS’s move will free EHR vendors from time-consuming coding to satisfy regulatory requirements. “It’s going to take 150 man-years to achieve full [meaningful use stage 3] certification of everything in the EHR,” he said.

“We could either create bold new population health and care management functionality, or spend 150 man-years certifying for meaningful use. I guarantee you, not one customer, if the penalty is eliminated, will suggest that certification for meaningful use is relevant. So the EHR vendors will go back to what their customers want, as opposed to what the government is mandating.”

The meaningful use program set specific objectives that professionals and hospitals had to meet to improve patient care, clinical outcomes, and other health care parameters using certified EHR technology.

Sources: HealthLeaders Media; January 13, 2016; and CMS Blog; January 12, 2016.