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HHS Announces Final Rules to Support Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Records

July 13, 2010

WIREC designated to advise Washington and Idaho healthcare providers on making electronic health records a reality

Seattle, WA - US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced final rules to help improve Americans' health, increase safety and reduce healthcare costs through expanded use of electronic health records (EHRs).

WIREC, the Washington and Idaho Regional Extension Center for Health Information Technology, is one of 60 such centers around the country, designated to offer healthcare providers a local resource for technical assistance, guidance and information on best practices to support and accelerate healthcare provider efforts to become meaningful users of EHR.

"Meaningful use of health information technology is critical, given the issues that confront the US today," said Jonathan Sugarman, MD, MPH, President and CEO of Qualis Health, WIREC's lead organization. "Experience shows that EHRs can yield better results for patients and providers. Transitioning to meaningful use of an EHR is a major undertaking, and these new regulations will provide significant financial support to help offset the costs."

Established under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, eligible healthcare professionals and hospitals can qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments when they adopt certified EHR technology and use it to achieve specified objectives. One of the two regulations announced today defines the "meaningful use" objectives that providers must meet to qualify for the bonus payments, and the other regulation identifies the technical capabilities required for certified EHR technology.

"For years, health policy leaders on both sides of the aisle have urged adoption of electronic health records throughout our healthcare system to improve quality of care and ultimately lower costs," Secretary Sebelius said. "Today, with the leadership of the President and the Congress, we are making that goal a reality."

With "meaningful use" definitions in place, WIREC will be working with primary care providers and their practices to ensure that the EHR system they use will support achievement of "meaningful use" objectives. With today's announcement, a concentrated five-year national initiative to adopt and use electronic records in healthcare can begin.

"Our Regional Extension Center provides the needed hands-on, field support for healthcare providers to advance the rapid adoption and use of health IT," said Peggy Evans, PhD, WIREC Director. "In understanding the unique challenges facing today's healthcare provider, we fill the role of trusted advisor for providers in Washington and Idaho, offering a functional combination of national insight and local expertise."

Two companion final rules were announced today. One regulation, issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), defines the minimum requirements that providers must meet through their use of certified EHR technology in order to qualify for the payments. The other rule, issued by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), identifies the standards and certification criteria for the certification of EHR technology, so eligible professionals and hospitals may be assured that the systems they adopt are capable of performing the required functions.

The CMS rule announced today makes final a proposed rule issued on January 13, 2010. The final rule includes modifications that address stakeholder concerns while retaining the intent and structure of the incentive programs. In particular, while the proposed rule called on eligible professionals to meet 25 requirements (23 for hospitals) in their use of EHRs, the final rule divides the requirements into a "core" group of requirements that must be met, plus an additional "menu" of procedures from which providers may choose. This "two track" approach ensures that the most basic elements of meaningful EHR use will be met by all providers qualifying for incentive payments, while at the same time allowing latitude in other areas to reflect providers' needs and their individual path to full EHR use.

"Healthcare is finally making the technology advances that other sectors of our economy began to undertake years ago," said David Blumenthal, MD, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. "These changes will be challenging for clinicians and hospitals, but the time has come to act. Adoption and meaningful use of EHRs will help providers deliver better and more effective care, and the benefits for patients and providers alike will grow rapidly over time."

About WIREC, Washington & Idaho's Regional Extension Center for Health Information Technology

Led by Qualis Health, WIREC offers a comprehensive suite of services to participating practices across Washington and Idaho. Our technical assistance is carried out by a consortium of the region's premier health IT adoption organizations:

  • Community Choice Health Network
  • IdahoHealth Data Exchange
  • Inland Northwest Health Services
  • North Idaho Health Network
  • PTSO of Washington
  • Qualis Health

With years of experience navigating the complexities of both EHR implementation and governmental programs, the WIREC team is uniquely positioned to guide participating practices to reach meaningful use standards, earn incentive payments and improve their systems of care.

Additional Resources

A CMS/ONC fact sheet on the rules is available at http://www.cms.gov/EHRIncentivePrograms/.

Technical fact sheets on CMS's final rule are available at http://www.cms.gov/EHRIncentivePrograms/.


This material was prepared by Qualis Health as part of our work as the Washington & Idaho Regional Extension Center under grant #90RC0033/01 from the Office of the National Coordinator, Department of Health and Human Services.

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