Trump’s pick to lead CMS has concerns about EHRs

While acknowledging the promise of digital records, agency nominee Seema Verma worries about providers’ tech burdens and the lack of interoperability.

If Seema Verma, President Trump’s nominee to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is confirmed by the Senate, she will seek to modernize CMS’s programs to better address the changing needs of the people the agency serves, leveraging innovation and technology to drive coordinated, cost-effective care.

“Doctors are increasingly frustrated by the number of costly and time-consuming burdens,” Verma testified February 16 before the Senate Finance Committee. “We should support doctors in providing high-quality care to their patients and ensuring that CMS’s rules and regulations don’t drive doctors and providers from serving the people or beneficiaries.”

At the Senate confirmation hearing, Verma called out the need to help reduce regulatory burdens on rural and other healthcare providers, including electronic health record requirements under the Meaningful Use program.

“Electronic health records I think have enormous promise. I think it’s helpful for physicians in terms of prompts, in terms of doing data and evaluation,” she said. “But, it has been a rocky start.”

According to Verma, EHR interoperability remains a daunting problem for the industry as barriers continue to prevent the sharing of electronic health information.

“If we’re going to have electronic health records, then we should make sure that they fulfill their promise,” she said. “So, if somebody goes to the emergency room—even if they are in a different hospital or different provider system—the doctors can pull up the information.”

In addition, Verma noted that clinicians are “still getting used to” using EHRs. She recounted being in her doctor’s office, and they have been “staring at their computer instead of looking at me as I tell them about my healthcare issues.”

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In particular, she said that rural providers have “unique and special” challenges, including more limited resources than larger urban providers in adopting and successfully implementing health information technology.

“Because they have those multiple challenges, it’s difficult for them when there are lots of rules and regulations coming down from the federal government,” Verma said. “I think we have to be very careful with our rural providers to make sure that we’re not putting additional burdens on them that actually impact accessibility to care and quality of care.”

She added that CMS needs to support rural providers “through the process” and “make sure that they have the appropriate technical assistance.”

In related news, CMS on February 17 announced that the agency awarded about $20 million to 11 organizations for the first year of a five-year program to provide on-the-ground training and education about the new Quality Payment Program for clinicians in individual or small group practices of 15 clinicians or fewer.

“The selected organizations will provide customized technical assistance to clinicians and practices to help them be successful in the Quality Payment Program,” according to the CMS announcement. “For example, clinicians will receive help choosing and reporting on quality measures, as well as guidance with all aspects of the program, including supporting change management and strategic planning and assessing and optimizing health information technology.”

The agency said it intends to invest up to an additional $80 million over the remaining four years.

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