It is remarkable that a program aimed at specific end users continues despite the fact the majority of those end users refuse to comply, even despite financial penalties from CMS.
By Linda M. Girgis, MD, FAAFP
The intent of the meaningful use (MU) program, signed into law as the HITECH Act in 2009, was commendable, but its implementation has been wrought with delays and failures. While many doctors successfully attested for Stage 1, SERMO – an online community exclusive to physicians – is reporting 55 percent of the 2,000 doctors it recently polled said they will not be attesting for Stage 2 this year.
Many in healthcare question the sustainability of this program. While its noble goals are recognized, it has had a detrimental effect on doctors in private and small practices with both the cost and time required to implement it simply too much. Even hospitals and large systems struggle to realign their infrastructures to comply.
These failings are trickling down to patients resulting in less than desirable outcomes. Many doctors are choosing to drop Medicare rather than be penalized for something they don’t agree with. What I see as the biggest failure of MU, however, is the fact that its implementation was enforced before its feasibility addressed. How can MU succeed when the majority of doctors reject it?
In my practice our proposed interfaces failed to materialize because our vendors could not work with each other and rather than fix the problem, they pointed fingers at each other and tried to sell us their product. For example, it took 18 months to get our patient portal active and that only happened after we changed web hosts. Despite this, we are still not interfaced with our local hospitals and their vendors solution was for us to purchase the hospitals’ software. This, however, is not an option as we are affiliated with three hospitals which do not use the same system.
The adverse effect on providers as a result of implementing the technology MU requires is yet another reason the program is failing. For instance, many EHR systems do not do what is required to meet the standards. The software at my practice is in constant need of upgrades and new buttons to mark being added frequently. The metrics required to attest are stringent and not all systems are capable providing them.
The failures of the MU program are myriad, and not just on a small scale. It deselects, by its intrinsic workability, doctors in small and private practices. It cannot continue without fixing the inherit failures in the ability to carry out the requirements. For me, I am attesting for Stage 2 because I have been using EHRs for 10 years and believe there is great value in digital data. However, I hope the technology and implementation catch up to the spirit of what it was intended to achieve.