New AMA Policy Continues Call for Penalties to be Removed from the Meaningful Use Program

Federal IT changes needed to improve care for patients and eliminate physician burdens

DALLAS (Nov. 10, 2014) – In a new policy approved today at the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Interim Meeting, physicians continued to call for penalties to be halted in the Meaningful Use program. Physicians feel that full interoperability, which is not widely available today, is necessary to achieve the goals of electronic health records (EHRs) - to facilitate coordination, increase efficiency and help improve the quality of care.

The new policy comes on the heels of the recent release of new attestation numbers showing only 2 percent of physicians have demonstrated Stage 2 Meaningful Use. In response to the new figure, the AMA joined with other health care leaders to urge policymakers to take immediate action to fix the Meaningful Use program by adding more flexibility and shortening the reporting period to help physicians avoid penalties.    

“The AMA has been calling for policymakers to refocus the Meaningful Use program on interoperability for quite some time,” said AMA President-elect Steven J. Stack, M.D. “The whole point of the Meaningful Use incentive program was to allow for the secure exchange of information across settings and providers and right now that type of sharing and coordination is not happening on a wide scale for reasons outside physicians’ control. Physicians want to improve the quality of care and usable, interoperable electronic health records are a pathway to achieving that goal.”

The certification of products and the cost of those certified products has also been a challenge for physicians as they try to meet Meaningful Use requirements. The extensive amount of time it takes for vendors to develop new, mandatory elements of EHRs and the lack of flexibility in the certification process are leading to late deliveries. That makes it impossible for many physicians to report for the whole year, a requirement for receiving an incentive. For vendors, meeting the federal requirements is coming at the expense of meeting physicians’ needs since they often have to focus first on Meaningful Use development requirements hindering their ability to focus on making their systems interoperable and deliver more usable, innovative products.

Although there are some systems on the market that are capable of interoperability, when data is transferred it is not always incorporated into the receiver’s EHR in a digestible way, making it difficult to act on and defeating the purpose of sharing. Additionally, interoperability often comes at a price, which further hinders its use.

In addition to calling for EHRs to be more interoperable, physicians are also recommending that policymakers ease regulations to allow for EHRs to become more usable. An AMA-RAND study released in 2013 cited EHRs as a major source of dissatisfaction for physicians. The report found that physicians want to embrace technology, but they’re frustrated that regulatory requirements are forcing them to do clerical work and distracting them from paying close attention to their patients. Physicians also raised concerns about interoperability in the study saying that the inability of EHRsto "talk" to each other prevents the transmission of patient medical information when it is needed.

The AMA continues to work aggressively to improve medical practice, including the usability of EHRs, so physicians can focus on their patients. By working toward delivery systems that support physician success, the AMA strives to enhance patient care, make delivery more efficient and reduce unnecessary costs or burdens through our Physician Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability strategic focus area.

As part of that effort, the AMA provided the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) with a Blueprint for improving the Meaningful Use program as well as a framework outlining eight priorities for more usable EHRs. Physicians want to use high-performing, interoperable technology in a way they best see fit to help them care for their patients. Modifying the Meaningful Use program will help to meet these goals.

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