Last Friday, the Administration announced plans for a new timeline for the implementation of requirements related to the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs) by our nation’s health care providers.
Enacted as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act established a program of Medicare payment incentives aimed at encouraging health care providers to not only adopt but also put into practice the use of EHRs. Eligibility for payment bonuses is predicated on the “meaningful use” of EHRs. The standards for meaningful use have been defined in three progressive stages towards the goal of using health IT to achieve certain objectives (e.g. communicating electronic information for care coordination, decision-support for certain conditions) to actually improve the delivery of health care.
The previous timeline put Stage 2 requirements into effect beginning in 2014 and Stage 3 in 2016. The recently announced revisions now delay Stage 3 requirements, expected in fall of 2014, until 2017.
Most of the much talked-about payment reforms that rely on increased care coordination and hold the promise of slowing the growth in our nation’s health care costs are largely only possible with the use of interoperable EHRs. Consequently, these implementation delays may also translate into delays in transforming the delivery of health care. However, even after three years of incentives, significant disparities remain in the adoption of basic EHRs both across and within states, which means that the announced delay may mean more time to ensure that certain providers aren’t left behind as the country moves into ever-more sophisticated uses of the technology.