Ominous Outlook for Meaningful Use
By Evan Steele
CMS passed up a golden opportunity to stave off the potential demise of the EHR incentive program when it failed to delay the start of Stage 2. What was already a complex program in Stage 1 becomes exponentially so in Stage 2, and its pace is outstripping the realities of medical practice and of software development. The facts speak for themselves:
- 17 percent of the physicians who successfully attested to 90 days of Meaningful Use at Stage 1 in 2011 walked away from the second incentive ($12,000) in 2012, which required a full year of Meaningful Use. I find this dropout rate very surprising. The requirements were exactly the same as the first reporting period for these physicians, so they and their staffs had already established the necessary workflows. The fact that many of these first attesters were early EHR adopters and therefore already more adept at EHR use than the average physician makes this statistic even more alarming. When surveyed by CMS, many of the dropouts cited the program’s complexity as a key reason for their failure in Year 2. Physicians who gave up on Stage 1 will likely not even attempt Stage 2.
- 12 percent of attesters who used one of the top 25 EHRs to demonstrate Meaningful Use in Stage 1 do not yet have access to a 2014-certified EHR, according to a January report issued by Wells Fargo Securities, while this year’s reporting period must begin within nine months. Some EHRs will never achieve 2014 certification. The first announcement of a vendor abandoning Meaningful Use came a few weeks ago, leaving its physicians out in the cold. Of the 49 ambulatory EHRs that have been 2014 certified to date — winnowed down from a Stage 1 field of 472 — very few have yet been deployed to physicians. This is clear evidence of the complexities associated with Stage 2 and the significant challenges facing vendors in making their EHRs compliant yet practical.
- I would estimate that at least another 15 percent will walk away from Stage 2 because of its dramatically increased complexity, added costs, and impact on productivity, particularly when weighed against the declining incentives (as little as $4,000 and $2,000 for physicians whose first year of Meaningful Use was 2011) and penalties that will average only a few thousand dollars.
- How many additional physicians will be driven to cry “Uncle” and abandon Meaningful Use because they are besieged by the demands of so many other programs at the same time—ICD-10, PQRS, Value-Based Payment Modifier, ACO participation, etc.? Physicians and their clinical teams are weary and can only do so much.
If you add these numbers together (acknowledging some overlap), the conclusion that 40 percent of past attesters will give up on Meaningful Use is inescapable. Then there’s the 37 percent of eligible professionals who have never earned an EHR incentive, including 18 percent who—if failure to even register is an indication of lack of intent—are so overwhelmed by the program that they have no interest in participation even in the “easiest” first stage (Source: CMS Presentation to HIT Policy Committee, January 14, 2014).
The delay of Stage 3 will be too little, too late. What was needed was a more reasonable approach to Stage 2.
Evan Steele is CEO of SRS, Montvale, NJ.