Senate hearing panelists: Stay the course on Meaningful Use

While providers are under a great deal of stress to meet adoption requirements for Meaningful Use, the industry must stay the course, said panelists at a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

The hearing, held by the committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, is the second in a series of discussions focusing on how to improve electronic health records and create an interoperable health system. 

Toward the beginning of the discussion, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn., pictured) pressed the panelists about their thoughts on proposed rules for Meaningful Use Stage 3, asking them if it would be best to slow down finalization of the rule.

"We can't go back," said Meryl Moss, chief operating officer at Providence, Rhode Island-based Coastal Medical. Meaningful Use forced the industry to use health records robustly, she said, and providers can't improve quality if they can't measure or track it, which is what Meaningful Use is helping them to do.

"We have to stay the course ... absolutely we have to stay the course," Timothy A. Pletcher, executive director of Michigan Health Information Network Shared Services, added. "We're getting better across the board, we're all learning. Even the quality measures, which are such a challenge in Meaningful Use Stage 3, start to bring that into alignment."

Many others in the industry, however, have not been as quick to move forward with the program's next step. That includes the American Medical Association and the Medical Group Management Association, as well as the American Hospital Association and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.

The responses from this hearing's panelists also differ from the response to the same question posed by Alexander at last week's discussion. At that hearing, Thomas Payne, M.D., of the American Medical Informatics Association, said his association wants to ensure that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services does not rush to the next stage of Meaningful Use.  

The HELP panel discussion also focused on the importance, and lack, of a set of standards in healthcare in relation to interoperability and the sharing of information. Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who chaired the discussion alongside Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), brought up the work of 21st Century Cures, saying that the bill "mandates that there's going to be a government agency that sets these standards."

"I'm a little nervous when the government attempts to regulate anything as dynamic as software standards," Cassidy said.

Nonetheless, each panel member was in support of a common set of standards, whether they are put into place by the government or another entity.

"There needs to be one agency or group that says this is the standard we need to follow," said Boyd Vindell Washington, M.D., president of Franciscan Medical Group and chief medical information officer at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "I think it is a rapidly moving activity ... it would more likely be a stakeholder group that comes up with standards."

Pletcher added that he thinks the conversation needs to be "bumped up to a higher level," which could include government agencies.

To learn more:
- watch the hearing