Ongoing federal regulatory push for EHR interoperability requires medical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups to have strategies for ensuring seamless interfaces with providers and hospitals

What difference does a name make? Clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups soon may know the answer to that question following the renaming of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) “Meaningful Use” program to “Promoting Interoperability” (PI).

CMS first announced the rebranding in April as part of a proposed rule aimed at transforming the Meaningful Use aspect of the federal Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. HITECH has been Medicare’s roadmap to electronic health record (EHR) implementation and interoperability since it was enacted in 2009.

The final rule arrived on August 2, 2018, and it may impact how clinical laboratories interface with provider and hospital EHRs.

Removing Obstacles to Quality Patient Care

In the news release outlining the updates to Medicare payment policies and rates under the Inpatient Prospective Payment System and the Long-Term Care Hospital Prospective Payment System, CMS states the “overhaul” of the meaningful use program will:

  • Make the program more flexible and less burdensome;
  • Emphasize measures that require the exchange of health information between providers and patients; and,
  • Incentivize providers to make it easier for patients to obtain their medical records electronically.

“We’re excited to make these changes to ensure care will focus on the patient, not on needless paperwork,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma stated in the news release. “We’ve listened to patients and their doctors who urged us to remove the obstacles getting in the way of quality care and positive health outcomes. Today’s final rule reflects public feedback on CMS proposals issued in April and the agency’s patient-driven priorities of improving the quality and safety of care, advancing health information exchange and usability, and removing outdated or redundant regulation on healthcare providers to make way for innovation and greater value.” (Photo copyright: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.)

According to a CMS fact sheet, key provisions of the overhaul include:

  • The rule finalized an EHR reporting period to a minimum of any continuous 90-day period in each of calendar years 2019 and 2020 for new and returning participants attesting to CMS or their State Medicaid agency;
  • For the Medicare Promoting Interoperability Program, the rule finalized a new performance-based scoring methodology consisting of a smaller set of objectives that CMS states will provide a more flexible, less-burdensome structure, allowing eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals (CAHs) to place their focus back on patients;
  • CMS finalized two new e-Prescribing measures related to e-prescribing of opioids (Schedule II controlled substances); and,
  • Beginning with an EHR reporting period in CY 2019, all eligible hospitals and CAHs under the Medicare and Medicaid PI programs will be required to use the 2015 Edition of Certified EHR Technology;
  • CMS finalized changes to measures, including removing certain measures CMS believes do not emphasize interoperability and the electronic exchange of health information.

According to CMS, about 3,300 acute care hospitals and 420 long-term care hospitals will be subject to the final rule, which takes effect October 1. Obviously, medical laboratories servicing these healthcare organizations will be similarly affected.

Rebranding More than a Name Change

Healthcare Informatics analyzed the 2,593-page final rule explaining that the “core emphasis” of the meaningful use overhaul is “on advancing health data exchange among providers.”

The initial proposal in April, according to Healthcare Informatics, invited stakeholder feedback through a request for information on the possibility of revising CMS’ “Conditions of Participation” for hospitals by requiring providers to electronically transfer medically necessary information following a patient discharge or transfer. The final rule, however, did not include that change.

Instead, the CMS Fact Sheet on the rule states the April request for information was “to obtain feedback on positive solutions to better achieve interoperability, or the sharing of healthcare data between providers, which will inform next steps in advancing this critical initiative.”

Rebranding meaningful use is CMS’s first step in implementing core pieces of the Administration’s MyHealthEData Initiative to strengthen interoperability. In remarks during the ONC Interoperability Forum in Washington, DC, CMS Administrator Seema Verma described the rebranding decision as “much more than a name change” and signaled future CMS actions.

“It is a change in direction for the programs—from programs that support the adoption of health IT, to programs that promote interoperability and patient access to data,” she explained. “To avoid payment reductions and gain incentives, doctors and hospitals will have to give patients electronic access to their health records. We are also considering whether CMS should require—as a condition of participation in the Medicare program—that providers share data with patients in a universal electronic format and hope to share more information on that soon.”

The recent changes follow passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which included a provision relaxing meaningful-use requirements. Though the legislation affects only hospitals and outpatient Medicaid providers, Robert Tennant, Director of Health Information Technology Policy for the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), declared the revision a “huge win” for providers.

“I don’t think the government recognized how difficult it would be to move from stage 1 to stage 2 to stage 3 [meaningful use] requirements and the significant costs involved,” Tennant stated told Modern Healthcare. “We hope that it signals an interest in Congress in having the administration and HHS (Federal Health and Human Services) not make these quality reporting programs so onerous that it results in large swaths of providers not being successful.”

Clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups should be aware that interoperability between their laboratory information systems and the EHRs of providers and hospitals continues to be important. Although the term “Meaningful Use” is to be supplanted by “Promoting Interoperability,” the ability to move patient health information seamlessly among providers continues to be a major goal of this country’s healthcare system.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

CMS Finalizes Changes to Empower Patients and Reduce Administrative Burden

In Proposed MU Rebranding Rule, CMS Raises the Interoperability Stakes

Fact Sheet: Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Medicare Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) and Long-Term Acute Care Hospital (LTCH) Prospective Payment System Final Rule (CMS-1694-F)

H.R. 1892: Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018

Printable PDF: Final Rule (CMS-1694-F)

Speech: Remarks by Administrator Seema Verma at the ONC Interoperability Forum in Washington, DC

Congress Budget Deal Relaxes Meaningful-Use Requirements

CMS Proposes Changes to Empower Patients and Reduce Administrative Burden

CMS Proposes Meaningful Use Changes to Promote Interoperability