The CMS will Allow Attesting for the Meaningful Use of Clinical Quality Measures in 2012 Because They’re Not Ready to Receive Digital Data from EHR Systems

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If you’re looking for signs that connectivity in the EHR and HIT world is improving at a rapid rate this story is not going to provide them.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had planned to allow attesting for the meaningful use clinical quality measures in the year 2011 only.  For years beyond 2011 providers were to have reported their data by uploading it directly from their EHR systems to a CMS web portal.

Well – now that has changed as the CMS is going to allow attesting that EHRs were used to collect data on clinical quality measures as a part of the criteria for meaningful use in 2012 as well.  Why you may ask?  Is it because many hospitals and practices are falling behind and unable to use their certified EHR systems to transfer the data?  That may have something to do with it but the given reason is that the CMS is not yet set up to receive the data.

However, as a part of their announcement they did state that they were creating a new “pilot program” that will pave the way for online data submission.  This program even has a name – the Physicians Quality Reporting System-Medicare EHR Incentive Pilot.

Even better, eligible professionals who join the pilot will have the option of either submitting data through the software vendor, if the CMS allows that vendor to reformat the data and send it to the CMS, or submitting the information directly from their EHR if that EHR system is approved by the CMS.  The cherry on top of this interoperability stew is that the CMS won’t even release their list of approved vendors until the summer of 2012.

YIKES!

Just to recap:

We (CMS) are going to trust you for at least another year to say you’re meaningful users of EHR technology because:

1.  We can’t receive the data you send
2.  We couldn’t use the data you sent us (in any meaningful way) if we could receive it
3.  We can’t tell you how to send us the data
4.  We hope your vendors will be able to take your data and reformat it a way that we might be able to use at some point in the future, and finally
5.  We can’t tell you for at least 12 more months which vendors will be able to reformat that data into something that we can use

I’ve always thought the biggest hurdle in the entire EHR process was going to be getting systems to talk to one another so this is particularly troubling.  To be announcing a pilot program, instead of actual specifications at this late date points out how far behind the curve the CMS is on this issue.

Formatting data that can be used across multiple systems is not an overwhelming problem.  It’s a problem that’s been solved multiple times, in multiple industries.

I’ve often described the phase we’re in right now as the “sausage-making” phase where everything looks kind of messy, greasy, and raw, but when it’s all over we’ll have some great tasting sausage.  Not having standards set for something as simple as transferring data to a web-portal could extend this phase for an additional several years, something non of us wants to see.

Photo Credit – KatJaTo