Over the past year, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has tried to be a better partner with providers by “listening and learning” as they continue to grapple with the difficulties in meeting Meaningful Use requirements for electronic health records.

Addressing the plenary session of ONC’s Annual Meeting in Washington on Monday, National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo, M.D. told the audience that the agency has come to understand the “realities on the ground” for EHRs in the clinical environment and the impact they have on physician workflow.

According to DeSalvo, ONC in 2014 hosted 15 listening sessions across the country with healthcare industry stakeholders to find out “what is working and what is not” in the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Programs. The listening sessions were also venues in which the agency was told how the federal government could help and “how it could get out of the way” of progress. “Thank you all for pushing us when we needed to be pushed,” she said.

“We listened to what you all were saying about the implementation of Meaningful Use, particularly Stage 2,” said DeSalvo, referencing the fact that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last spring added flexibility to the MU program with hardship exemptions. She also mentioned last week’s announcement by CMS that it intends to issue a new rule to shorten the Meaningful Use reporting period in 2015 from a full year to just 90 days.

In response to the CMS announcement, the American Medical Association voiced its approval for a 90-day reporting period this year. AMA President-Elect Steven Stack, M.D., said his organization hopes the new rule will be issued quickly to provide the flexibility needed to allow more physicians to successfully participate in the Meaningful Use program. But, at the same time, Stack warned that while EHRs are “intended to help physicians improve care for their patients,” current “EHR certification standards and the stringent requirements of the Meaningful Use program do not support that goal and decrease efficiency.”

Mindful of the challenges being experienced by providers, DeSalvo said that as ONC looks to the much-anticipated proposed rule for MU Stage 3 the agency is “looking to develop a program that is straightforward and flexible, focused on outcomes and on interoperability.”

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