HHS Releases Proposed EHR “Meaningful Use” Standards

By 2014, hospitals and physicians whom Medicare reimburses for services and items will need to have adopted an electronic health record (EHR) according to rules promulgated under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) or risk reductions in their Medicare reimbursement. On December 30, 2009, the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), released their respective proposed rules for qualifying for EHR stimulus funds under HITECH: The “meaningful use” and “certified” EHR standards. 

Under HITECH, hospitals and physicians must make a “meaningful use” of a “certified” EHR in order to qualify for the EHR stimulus funds. Such meaningful use must be demonstrated in each year for which stimulus funds are available.  HITECH directs HHS to re-evaluate the “meaningful use” and EHR certification standards each year and to increase or refine the standards as necessary to meet the objective of having an interoperable EHR before 2015.  The ONC standard addresses the implementation and certification standards that an EHR must meet to qualify. The CMS standard defines and specifies how to demonstrate meaningful use of the certified EHR.

The first year for which providers can qualify for stimulus funds is 2011.*(See post-script below.)  Here is how CMS summarizes the first year’s “meaningful use” standard:

The proposed Stage 1 criteria for meaningful use focus on electronically capturing health information in a coded format, using that information to track key clinical conditions, communicating that information for care coordination purposes, and initiating the reporting of clinical quality measures and public health information.

The proposed criteria for meaningful use are based on a series of specific objectives, each of which is tied to a proposed measure that all EPs [eligible professionals] and hospitals must meet in order to demonstrate that they are meaningful users of certified EHR technology.

For Stage 1, which begins in 2011, CMS proposes 25 objectives/measures for EPs and 23 objectives/measures for eligible hospitals that must be met to be deemed a meaningful EHR user. 

In 2011, all of the results for all objectives/measures, including clinical quality measures would be reported by EPs and hospitals to CMS, or for Medicaid EPs and hospitals to the states, through attestation.

In 2012, CMS proposes requiring the direct submission of clinical quality measures to CMS (or to the states for Medicaid EPs and hospitals) through certified EHR technology.  CMS recognizes that for clinical quality reporting to become routine, the administrative burden of reporting must be reduced. By using certified EHR technology to report information on clinical quality measures electronically to a health information network, a state, CMS, or a registry, the burden on providers that are gathering the data and transmitting them will be greatly reduced.  The burden of generating the necessary information for the provider to then use the information to improve health care quality, efficiency, and patient safety will also be reduced.

The proposed CMS rule and fact sheets can be found here.  The proposed ONC rule and additional information about the certification standards can be found on the ONC HIT webpage here.


 *When Can Hospitals and Physicians Start Qualifying for the Stimulus Payments?  CMS’ proposed rule for “meaningful use” goes into some detail regarding the qualification period and when hospitals and EPs can first qualify for EHR stimulus payments.  First, CMS proposes using the calendar year as the stimulus “payment year” under both Medicare and Medicaid EHR stimulus programs for all eligible professionals (EPs). CMS proposes using the fiscal year as the stimulus “payment year” under both Medicare and Medicaid EHR stimulus programs for all eligible hospitals. Accordingly, for hospitals, the “2011 payment year” for Medicare program stimulus payments begins on October 1, 2010, and for EPs, the “payment year” begins on January 1, 2011. 

However, CMS has added a twist.  For the “2011 payment year,” hospitals and EPs need only demonstrate meaningful use of their EHR for a 90-day period.  For hospitals, the 90-day period for the first payment year can be any 90 days from October 1, 2010 through September 30, 2011.  For EPs, the 90-day period can be any 90 days from October 1, 2010 through December 31, 2011.  Under the Medicare stimulus program, due to the limited time available for CMS to finalize the rules and get the program up and running, the first 90-day period of “meaningful use” that CMS will consider for either hospitals or EPs cannot begin before October 1, 2010.  Accordingly, both hospitals and EPs who are ready to demonstrate “meaningful use” from October 2, 2010 through December 31, 2010, can qualify for the 2011 payment year stimulus on January 1, 2011.  The last 90-day period that hospitals can demonstrate meaningful use for the 2011 payment year will be from July 3, 2011 through September 30, 2011, the last day of the Federal fiscal period. EPs will have until October 2, 2011 through December 31, 2011, the last day of the 2011 calendar year, to demonstrate meaningful use for the 2011 payment year.

For the succeeding payment years (2012, 2013, 2014, etc.), “meaningful use” must be demonstrated for the entire “payment year” (fiscal for hospitals and calendar for EPs).  Accordingly, for hospitals, for which the fiscal year begins on October 1, meaningful use for the 2012 payment year must be demonstrated from October 1, 2011 through September 30, 2012. For EPs, who are subject to a calendar year, meaningful use for the 2012 payment year must be demonstrated from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012. (Note that eligible hospitals and EPs do not have to qualify during the first possible “payment year” in order to receive EHR stimulus; however, if they do start in a later payment year, their total stimulus payments will be less that those who qualified in an earlier payment year.)

The “payment year” for Medicaid stimulus payments can begin in 2010 if CMS approves the State’s plan for early adoption and payment.  It seems rather doubtful that states still struggling with budget crises (such as in Kentucky and California) are going to be throwing resources into getting their State Medicaid EHR stimulus program up and going in 2010!  If you are in a financially healthy state that has been ahead of the game on EHR implementation (one of the 10 states for which CMS has approved a EHR stimulus grants), and you are a provider who is considering opting into the Medicaid EHR incentive program, then the detailed discussion of this program on pp. 275-347 of CMS’ proposed “meaningful use” rule is essential reading.

6 thoughts on “HHS Releases Proposed EHR “Meaningful Use” Standards

  1. Is there any rule prohibiting dual documentation — e.g., in our hospital we have a computer that handles “everything” — nursing, H&P, clinical, billing information… the works. This is used every day. But the docs don’t trust it, so they force the staff to use a paper chart as well. It’s called “double duty.” But I don’t see anything that specifically prohibits this, regardless of the intent.

    Also, I was told that it is the Provider number that distinguishes a hospital-based from non-hospital based physician from participating in this program — i.e., if patients are billed using their Provider Number, they can participate (and get the money), if they are billed using the hospital Provider Number, they can’t (and subsequently aren’t much interested in pushing forward with this program. Instead, they will have to be forced into it).


  2. Hi,
    It was really good post lot of useful information. On the point of usability and defining the term ‘meaningful use’, I would add further that the medical practitioners are looking to avail of this federal incentive by trying to comply with the definition of meaningful use but at the same time EHR providers are looking at their own set of profits.
    This misunderstanding is mostly I believe as a result of wrong interpretation of the federal guidelines. The EHR providers need to look at these guidelines from the prospective of the practitioners who deal with different specialties.
    Each specialty EHR has its own set of challenges or requirements which I believe is overlooked by im most EHR vendors in a effort to merely follows federal guidelines. This is resulting in low usability to the practitioners, thus less ROI, finally redundancy of the EHR solution in place.
    I think ROI is very important factor that should be duly considered when look achieve a ‘meaning use’ out of a EHR solution. Though one may get vendors providing ‘meaning use’ at a lower cost, their ROI / savings through the use of their EHR might be pretty low when compared to costlier initial investment. Found a pretty useful ROI tool that is pretty customizable and easy to use. It also accounts for the different specialty EHR’s too.
    There are other good references on the topics of:
    Usability / Meaningful use

    Certification criteria for EHR


  3. Also the introduction of REC’s through the HITECH act. is a great way to avail of quality EHR solutions at competitive prices. The stiff competition among not only these REC’s but also among EHR vendors ( to become a preferred vendor of a given REC) will result in lot of positives to medical practioners.
    Looking the funding provided to the REC’s, the staggered grant allocation system also promises to be an unbiased way of allocating funds. It will also help in the concept of REC’s helping out each with their own unique business models. It can be one of the possible answers to the
    ’safe vendor challenge’ as discussed by many critics.


  4. Dual documentation can create issues if the electronic record and paper record do not contain the same information. If one version contains different, additional or less information than the other version, this could impact the provider’s ability to provide qualify care or create problems in defending healthcare liability claim, even if the discrepancy is just a red herring. Which record are providers relying on to provide care?


  5. In regards to Michael’s comment – there is nothing in the meaningful use stipulations (as far as I know) that would prohibit you from doing “double duty”, so long as the electronic portion complies with meaningful use.

    To Kathies response, true this could lower patient care if data gets out of synch, but since when did meaningful use refer to patient care 🙂


Leave a reply. Please note that although this blog may be helpful in informing clients and others who have an interest in information privacy and security, it is not intended to be legal advice. The information on this blog also should not be relied upon to form an attorney-client relationship.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.