AMA trustee: Even relaxed meaningful-use standards will be tough for many docs

Just in case anyone was still wondering, getting to "meaningful use" of EHRs is by no means a slam dunk for many a physician.

Even though CMS reduced the 2011-12 requirements from an earlier proposal, meeting the standards still will be a formidable task for for the estimated 80 percent of doctors who currently don't have an EHR, contends Dr. Steven J. Stack, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at St. Joseph Hospital East in Lexington, Ky., and a member of the AMA's Board of Trustees since 2006.

"While the final rule does reduce the overall number of measures physicians must meet, requiring physicians to meet 20 measures in the first year is still a very high bar, especially for smaller practices that are new to the technology," Stack writes in a commentary for iHealthBeat. "Those physicians who have already invested substantially in EHR technology will now have to upgrade their systems to meet the certification criteria in order to be eligible for incentives."

He says there is no EHR on the market right now that "does all the things required for physicians to successfully meet the meaningful use criteria." Though HHS officials have said they expect the first certified products to be ready by the fall, that gives physicians starting from square one less than a year to achieve meaningful use if they want to earn bonus payments for 2011. "This is no small feat, considering it can take a year or more for some physician practices to purchase and implement an EHR system," Stack says.

Stack does praise CMS for relaxing the standards so more physicians will be able to qualify, though. "The objectives and measures related to administrative simplification have been removed during the initial stage of the incentive program, allowing physicians to focus on only meeting requirements that are directly related to an EHR," he writes. He also likes the fact that CMS has reduced the variation between the Medicare and Medicaid tracks of the federal incentive program.

Ultimately, it's all for the better, he says. "Despite the challenges, a properly implemented EHR system can help streamline the clinical and business functions of a physician practice and support physicians with providing coordinated, patient-centered, quality healthcare," Stack notes.

For more:
- read Stack's iHealthBeat commentary