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January 2017

Editor's Note: Meaningful Use Trudges On
By Lee DeOrio
For The Record
Vol. 29 No. 1 P. 3

There was a time when approximately every third sentence uttered at the annual HIMSS conference contained the term "meaningful use." Criteria, updates, exemptions, and penalties were discussed at length. It was all 2% this, 5% that, 24/7.

Today, the incentive program has taken a backseat to other, more buzzworthy initiatives. No longer do industry experts gather for town halls to debate the topic. Major decrees about new developments have become whimpers, merely sidebars to the day's major news.

Still, meaningful use labors on in the background, content to push forward in its attempts to promote EHR use in a manner that benefits providers and patients. In what may be construed as an attempt to maintain the program's diminished profile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently released a report without much fanfare featuring an overview of the program heading into 2017.

Several items caught my attention. First was the number of Medicare eligible professionals (EPs) who will face a 3% penalty for not meeting meaningful use requirements in 2015. (Payment adjustments for Medicare EPs occur two years from the actual attestation year.) Roughly 171,000 failed to meet the minimum necessary, a decrease from the 209,000 who were penalized in 2016 but still a surprising number given that Congress had granted what was considered to be a series of generous hardship exemptions.

Is it ennui or have providers moved on to more adventurous HIT projects?

"I think it still reflects the reluctance of some physicians to invest the time, resources, and finances in EHRs, and the lack of return on investment for those efforts," says Stanley Nachimson, principal of Nachimson Advisors and former CMS senior technical advisor for e-health standards and services. "We still have not provided the clear business case for EHRs. The interoperability issues still haunt the industry."

Keep in mind that CMS reports that 98% of hospitals have met either stage 1 or stage 2 of meaningful use, an accomplishment that should not be taken lightly.

Clearly, the initiative has had a profound effect (both good and bad), but its days of hogging the spotlight have passed. With the number of exemptions now available to EPs, it's a watered-down version of meaningful use that's heading toward its swan song.