CMS rule gives hospitals more flexibility with EHR upgrades, Meaningful Use reporting

CMS will allow hospitals to use 2014 or 2015 certified EHRs in 2018, pushing back a January 1 deadline.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has pushed back a looming deadline for EHR certification, allowing hospitals to delay system upgrades and reducing meaningful use attestation reporting periods.

The 2018 payment rule (PDF) allows hospitals to use EHR systems certified to the 2014 Edition, the 2015 Edition or a combination of the two.

Additionally, CMS shortened the reporting periods for hospitals submitting meaningful use attestation data to CMS or their state Medicaid agency from a full year to a continuous 90-day period. The agency also finalized a new exemption for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program for hospitals with EHR technology that has been decertified by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.  

“A huge weight has been lifted off our collective shoulders,” Liz Johnson, CIO of acute care hospitals and applied clinical informatics at Tenet Healthcare Corporation and board chair for the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) said in a statement.

RELATED: CHIME backs bill that would add more flexibility to Meaningful Use requirements

Under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs, hospitals were required to upgrade their EHR systems to meet the ONC’s 2015 Edition EHR certification requirements by January 1, 2018. Providers and health IT groups have ardently opposed that deadline, arguing that very few EHR vendors had made the necessary upgrades to meet the 2015 certification requirements.

Last month, proposed changes to the MACRA gave physicians practices more flexibility to use both 2014 and 2015 Edition Certified EHRs. Health IT groups praised the regulatory relief but called for CMS to adopt a similar approach for hospitals.

RELATED: HIMSS echoes calls for HHS to delay updated EHR certification requirements

The agency listened but it also acknowledged the benefits of upgrading EHRs to meet 2015 certification standards, including improved data capture and extraction and enhanced interoperability.

“For these reasons, we encourage hospitals to deploy the 2015 Edition certification criteria as soon as practicable,” the rule stated.

The American Hosptial Association praised the meaningful use flexibility for 2018, particularly the shortened reporting period. 

“We appreciate the agency allowing hospitals and critical access hospitals to report meaningful use modified Stage 2 in 2018, as well as implementation of a 90-day meaningful use reporting period in fiscal year 2018,” Tom Nickels, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association said in a statement.