CMS' eHealth initiative to align core programs

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched its eHealth initiative on March 5 during the 2013 HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans. The initiative integrates CMS programs in four main areas: (1) the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs; (2) quality measurement; (3) e-prescribing; and (4) administrative simplification.

The quality measurement programs include the Physician Quality Reporting System and the Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting Program. The administrative simplification programs include the areas of ICD-10, health plan identifier, electronic funds transfer and electronic remittance advice.

In a blog post dated March 4, Robert Tagalicod, director of CMS' Office of E-Health Standards and Services, wrote, "Each program is part of an overarching eHealth infrastructure that will transform our healthcare system by capturing and tracking information electronically. CMS is committed to helping healthcare providers deliver better patient care by simplifying the use of electronic standards and encouraging the adoption of health information technology."

CMS' new eHealth website – along with the above-mentioned blog and a listserv – will provide information on how to coordinate efforts in the areas of ICD-10, EHRs and meaningful use, operating standards, electronic quality measurement and payment models. The agency also said it would review regulations "to maximize alignment opportunities across initiatives.

During a March 6 interview with PhysBizTech in the HIMSS13 exhibit hall, Tagalicod emphasized that CMS' eHealth presence "is more than a static website with facts and figures." He added, "We're using social media in addition to traditional methods to have a dialogue with stakeholders."

An important segment of that stakeholder set will be small and medium-sized physician practices. "Our initial strategy was to get to the larger practices, the larger groups, as part of the first wave," Tagalicod explained. "But that is not meant to message that we are not going to pay attention to anybody else. Our eyes are also focused on the smaller providers." CMS' outreach will include education, training and capacity-building – "to make it easier for people to adopt," he said.

Tagalicod also said part of CMS' due diligence moving forward will be to examine regulations as part of the administration's overall efforts to simplify processes and reduce regulatory burden. "In some cases, the legislation or regulation is clear in regard to certain dates for certain milestones. Where it isn't [clear], we would like to have a conversation and possibly issue sub-regulatory guidance. There is acknowledgement that there is some latitude in terms of legislation and regulation."

When asked if such guidance could come into play with meaningful use Stage 3, for example, Tagalicod replied, "I can't get into specific details because that's all still in negotiations. But we're very attentive to the value of the burden that's out there. We're looking at how we can make this more optimal for everybody and not forget the smaller and medium-sized providers."