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Medical Care

Many Hospitals Missed E-health Deadline

Many of the nation’s hospitals struggled to meet a federally mandated electronic health records deadline, and as a result could collectively face millions of dollars in reduced Medicare payments, according to a study done at the University of Michigan published online August 7th 2014 and slated to be published in the September print issue of the journal Health Affairs.

A release from the university reports that more than half of U.S. hospitals were required to meet a new set of “meaningful use” of electronic health records criteria—known as the stage 2 criteria—by the end of the fiscal year that ended in July. The study’s data, which was gathered in late 2013, showed that only 5.8 percent of those hospitals were on track to adopt all 16 of the stage 2 meaningful use goals.

The release quotes Julia Adler-Milstein, an assistant professor in the U-M School of Information and the U-M School of Public Health who co-led the research, as saying, “There was likely a big scramble before the deadline, but my sense is that it would have been hard for a lot of those hospitals to meet that deadline.”

The criteria, set forth by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, include relatively easy items such as using electronic health records to enter orders for medication as well as lab and radiology tests, to chart patients’ vital signs, and to record patient demographics. More difficult activities include sharing electronic health record data with patients online, sharing electronic data with other providers who care for the same patients, and submitting electronic data to vaccine registries.

“The stage 2 criteria ask hospitals to do several new things with their electronic health records and the areas that are most challenging are those that require engaging patients, public health and other providers to a greater degree—groups that are outside the four walls of the hospital,” Adler-Milstein said.

The criteria are the second tier of compliance with the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, also known as HITECH. The act requires hospitals to move from paper to electronic recordkeeping. At first, only a basic set of criteria is required, but once a hospital starts down the path, it must meet higher benchmarks at scheduled dates. The more than half of hospitals that were scheduled to meet the stage 2 meaningful use criteria in 2014 were the first wave to begin adopting digital medical records.

The study determined that the number of hospitals adopting electronic health records continues to rise steeply. Nearly 60 percent of hospitals now have at least a basic system. And 90 percent of those were on track to achieve many of the 16 core criteria.

The study suggests that, where hospitals are not able to meet criteria, they aren’t always to blame. Vendors must upgrade their products to make necessary functions available to meet the criteria. These challenges, however, appear to be concentrated in specific types of hospitals.

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