HHS pressed on flexibility in Health IT mandates

Tuesday - 4/27/2010, 6:38am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

As an early summer deadline looms for the Department of Health and Human Services to issue new rules on electronic health records (EHR), one of the key stakeholder groups is in Washington this week pressing for what they say are needed changes in the proposals.

The White House and Congress threw millions and millions of dollars into last year's Stimulus bill to assist and entice the health care community into adopting electronic health records widely. The hope was that electronic records would be a commonplace thing nationwide by 2015.

Don May is Vice President for Policy with the Chicago-based American Hospital Association, which is holding its annual meeting here in Washington through Wednesday. He says his group agrees with the potential for EHRs.

Hospitals across the country are taking many steps to implement many different kinds of electronic health records, or computerized electronic order entry, many different kinds of electronic systems that allow patients' information to be shared with doctors, so that they're not duplicating tests, and they're using that information to improve service at time of care.

May says that the big challenge for hospitals in implementing EHRs, however, is now trying to meet the mandates set by the administration and Capitol Hill to meet existing and proposed deadlines for the widespread use of electronic health records.

Doctor David Blumenthal, HHS's National Coordinator for the Health IT, says he has heard loud and clear from the hospital administrators that some changes are needed in the deadlines for the health IT program.

"They would like a more flexible approach in the 'meaningful use' regulation," he told Federal News Radio, "instead of the all-or-nothing approach that is currently in the proposed rulemaking. We were aware of that viewpoint, and we will certainly respond to it in the final regulation."

Blumenthal faced a number of questions regarding health IT during the AHA panel on the stimulus bill and the electronic health record program. But for the moment, he told the AHA meeting attendees, it is not a subject upon which he can expound. He says that federal guidelines associated with agencies that are in the midst of a proposed rulemaking prohibit him from commenting officially during the public comment period.

We asked Doctor Blumenthal about HHS's timeline for the Health IT rulemaking process.

We hope to issue a final rule by the end of spring, My cosmology tells me that's June 20th through June 21st, so that's roughly the timeframe we're looking at.

The AHA's Don May says he is still hopeful that when Blumenthal's office releases the final EHR guidelines in June, they'll provide some flexibility for his members who want to get to the promised land of electronic health records.

I think we do need to have the criteria that the systems that we are using are being used meaningfully. It is all in that definition of what does "meaningful" mean. My guess is that when Congress passed this legislation, they said they wanted to reward hospitals and physicians who are meaningfully using IT. They thought that a lot of our leading organizations today were meaningfully using them. Our concern is in the definition that's been drawn. (it) actually says that some of those leaders, some of those who are the innovators, are not using it meaningfully, and that's where we have concerns. I think we definitely want meaningful use, but we also need a definition of meaningful use that really does recognize all the different types of meaningful use of electronic health systems that have an impact on patient care.

The AHA annual meeting continues though Wednesday at the Washington Hilton hotel.

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