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HHS Secretary Sebelius Resigns

Posted on April 11, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The big news coming out of Washington yesterday was that Kathleen Sebelius is resigning as secretary of HHS. This is the end of a stormy 5 year tenure filled with Obamacare and the famed roll out of Healthcare.gov. I can’t imagine the temporary SGR fix and the ICD-10 delay didn’t help keep her around longer either. For those of us who live and breathe the HITECH Act and EHR incentive money, my guess is that the $36 billion is barely a blip on Sebelius’ radar.

Word is that she chose to leave and wasn’t forced out by the administration. To be honest, would any of you have wanted to be in her position? What a tough job she’s had. Many called for her resignation after the botched Healthcare.gov roll out, but she stayed. At least she stayed long enough for that to mostly roll through.

In fact, I find the headlines of her departure pretty interesting. For example, the New York Times says, “Sebelius Resigns After Troubles Over Health Site.” Farzad pointed to an article by Vox that says, “Kathleen Sebelius is resigning because Obamacare has won.” Seems like the headline people choose/tweet is in line with their politics.

Word is that Sylvia Matthews Burwell will be nominated as Sebelius’ replacement. You can read more about Burwell here. I saw a doctor tweet the question of whether this is the best we can do, someone with work history at foundations. I imagine many doctors feel the same way. Although, we all understand that the HHS secretary is very much part of the political discussion.

All in all, I don’t think Sebelius being gone will mean much change for those of us in the trenches.

CMS Wants Test EMRs To Help Providers Meet Stage 2 Objectives

Posted on November 21, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

CMS has begun seeking EMRs that hospitals and providers can use to test whether they meet three of Meaningful Use Stage 2’s transition of care objective, according to iHealthBeat.

Under Meaningful Use Stage 2, providers must either successfully meet the transition of care requirement in one of two ways, either by successfully performing one electronic exchange of a summary of care document with a recipient using a different technology, or, successfully conduct at least one exchange test with a CM-designed test EMR during the EMR reporting period.

Vendors have been given instructions on how to get involved. CMS has set up a new website explaining how developers’ products can become designated test EMRs, which lists the minimum set of technical capabilities for participation.

If they meet CMS’s standards, all designated test EMRs will register with a software system hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which will randomly match providers with a designated EMR that’s different from their own to allow them to meet the transition-of-care objective.

While this sounds like a reasonable way to get one aspect of Meaningful Use handled, it’s worth remembering that many medical groups are concerned about the entire Stage 2 package. A few months ago, the head of the Medical Group Management Association wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius arguing that her members faced serious issues in stepping up to Stage 2.

The MGMA leader, president and CEO Susan Turney, noted that many vendors are proving slow to produce Stage 2-certified products, leaving practices in the lurch. In fact, when the letter was written (August), there were only 75 products and 21 complete EMRs certified for Stage 2 criteria, a tiny fraction of the more than 2,200 products and nearly 1,400 complete EMRs certified under 2011 criteria for ambulatory eligible professionals.

I don’t know about you, but to me this is a no-brainer: isn’t this certification gap where CMS should be focusing its Meaningful Use compliance efforts?

HHS Says EMR Adoption Reaching “Tipping Point”

Posted on June 21, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

More than 80 percent of hospitals accepting Medicaid or Medicare  — and half of doctors’ offices — should have EMRs in place by the end of the year, HHS announced.

According to HHS, 9 percent of hospitals had EMRs in 2008, but now 80 percent have demonstrated Meaningful  Use. Meanwhile, 17 percent of physicians used EMRs in 2008, but now 50 percent have demonstrated Meaningful Use.  To date, more than 291,000 providers and 3,800 hospitals  have received incentive payments. These are interesting numbers when compared with the state EHR adoption reports.

“We have reached a tipping point in adoption of electronic health records,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, according to a report in USA Today.

According to ONC head Farzad Mostashari, who spoke with the newspaper, EMRs have already begun to affect the safety and quality of care where they are deployed.  In the past, when patients went to the emergency department, often no one knew his or her medical history, which was often scattered across different doctors’ offices.

“There were hundreds of thousands of medical errors,” Mostashari told USA Today. “Electronic records cut errors by half.”

This year may offer cause to celebrate, but next year looks more challenging. Though the state of interoperability is still relatively primitive, providers are expected to have their EMRs connected to other systems and other providers by then. While some doctors and hospitals are already part of working HIEs, getting anywhere near a majority connected, much less all, is going to be a very, very challenging exercise.

Let’s see what the headlines say in May 2014!

Congressmen Want Halt On Meaningful Use Payments

Posted on October 8, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Four congressmen have thrown what could be a monkey wrench into the rollout of Meaningful Use Stage 2 regulations, arguing that Meaningful Use rules are weak and ineffective and that MU incentives have gone awry.

The four have written a letter to HHS head Kathleen Sebelius to recommend that until MU Stage 2 rules require “comprehensive interoperability,” and hospitals can prove they’re capable of exchanging data, the agency shouldn’t hand out incentive payments.

In the letter, the congressmen somewhat spitefully quote the recent piece from The New York Times which suggests that EMRs are raising costs by encouraging upcoding. “Perhaps not surprisingly, your EHR incentive program appears to be doing more harm than good,” the letter says. (Oh, snap!)

What do the congressmen want? A) To see CMS suspend all incentive payments until “universal interoperable standards” are promulgated, B) to require higher level of performance from Meaningful Users (upping percentages of, for example, transfers that need to be done electronically) and C) to see HHS “take steps to eliminate the subsidization of business practices that block the exchange of information between providers.”

Of course, the health IT leaders of the world are aghast. HIMSS, for example, has already issued a statement opposing the incentive payment halt.

But there is a nuanced conversation to be had here. While I admit I’ve ridiculed the tone of the congressional letter a bit, I think there’s some merit in the complaints. Interestingly enough, the most substantial complaint (letter “C”) in the missive is discussed the least in the text.

Let’s think about what John rightly calls “Jabba the Hutt” EMR vendors. What incentive do they have to change their business practices and make their products interoperable if the only threat to their business is academic discussions about Blue Buttons, The Direct Project and 17 flavors of HL7?

No, my friends, while I disliked the nasty, hectoring tone of the letter, I think we should take the authors’ objections seriously. We are at an interoperability crossroads and there’s no immediate end in sight.