It's Not Too Late to Catch Up on Meaningful Use

May 13, 2014

Running behind on the meaningful use requirements for the EHR Incentive Programs? It might not be as bad as it seems for your practice.

If you are running behind or just beginning meaningful use of your EHR, you might feel a little overwhelmed. Even a quick look at the incentive program requirements for Medicare and Medicaid and the timeline can be overwhelming.

"The timing is very complicated," said Fletcher Lance, vice president and national healthcare leader at consulting firm North Highland. If you are already in your second year of meaningful use, your reporting period has to start at the beginning of a quarter of the calendar year: January 1, April 1, July 1, or October 1. But if you are in your first year of meaningful use, you can choose any 90-day reporting period as long as you attest by Oct. 1, 2014, according to CMS.

And many of the core requirements, such as getting patients to use your patient portal, can't be pulled off in a hurry. "It's hard to play catch-up," Lance said.

On the other hand, being behind has a few advantages as well. Early in the game some of the meaningful use requirements were unclear and the technology wasn't ready. "Many of our clients went early, and in some cases vendors had to develop workarounds," said Lance.

Now that most of the kinks are out of the system, those who are running behind or just getting started may sidestep some difficulties that vexed early adopters.

"Since Stage 2 is an extension of Stage 1, I think that for the most part, late adopters will be able to participate in more of the core measures early on," said Tammie Olson of Management Resource Group, a firm offering financial management and support services for the healthcare community. "Most providers opted out of the patient portal use in Stage 1. Now that the technology is here, more will be able to use it. By not filing for exclusions in Stage 1, late adopters will be better prepared to succeed in Stage 2."

That is not to say that catching up won't be a challenge. "There is still time to enroll and participate," Olson said, "but if you are running behind, this is the time to start catching up."

Staying on track involves more than simply being aware of the timelines and having an EHR system in place. You must continually monitor your progress, making course corrections as you go, to be ready to meet percentage requirements when your practice is ready to attest. "Our members who were unsuccessful at attestation, weren't watching their numbers," said Steven Waldren, senior healthcare strategist with the American Academy of Family Physicians. "Tracking as you go is crucial."

So if you're lagging behind, take heart, you may have avoided some headaches. If you want to avoid future headaches, get started now and keep an eye on your percentages.