Proposed skilled nursing facility payment rule: Health IT, HIE 'essential'

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is continuing its strategy to nudge non-Meaningful Use providers to adopt electronic health records and participate in health information exchanges (HIEs), this time via its proposed 2016 payment rule for skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).

The rule, published in the Federal Register April 20, does not require SNFs to adopt EHRs and engage in data sharing with other providers--yet. It acknowledges that SNFs are not part of the Meaningful Use program.

However, it states that there should be "consistent and timely access" to health information in a standardized format and securely exchanged, adding that effective adoption and use of data sharing will be "essential."  

Notably, the rule touts the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's draft interoperability roadmap and its focus on interoperability across the care continuum by 2017. It then refers to the roadmap's "vision," which expands the type of electronic health information, information sources and users "well beyond" information from EHRs, and notes that this strategy is intended to "reflect important actions that both public and private sector stakeholders can take to enable nationwide interoperability of electronic health information."

The rule then appears to put SNFs on notice that health IT and HIE for them will soon be inevitable:

"We encourage stakeholders to utilize health information exchange and certified health IT to effectively and efficiently help providers improve internal care delivery practices, support management of care across the continuum, enable the reporting of electronically specified clinical quality measures [eCQMs], and improve efficiencies and reduce unnecessary costs," it says. "As adoption of certified health IT increases and interoperability standards continue to mature, HHS will seek to reinforce standards through relevant policies and programs."

HHS' position coincides with its other recent efforts to use payment programs to bolster EHR and HIE use. The new law repealing the sustainable growth rate formula, signed April 16, requires interoperability by 2018.

Comments on the rule are due by June 19.

To learn more:
- read the proposed rule (.pdf)