Public Policy

New 'Meaningful Use' Exemption is Valuable Option for Growing Number of Hospitalists


Hospital-based eligible professionals do not qualify for the Medicare or Medicaid electronic health record (EHR) incentive program or the impending payment penalties for not being “meaningful users” of EHR technology.

A hospital-based “eligible professional” (EP) is defined by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) as an EP who furnishes 90% or more of their covered professional services in either the inpatient or emergency departments of a hospital. This exemption applies to most hospitalists and recognizes they have very little control over whether their respective institutions invest in this technology.

Although this 90% threshold should qualify most hospitalists for the exemption, it does not tell the entire story. A growing number of hospitalists are spending time rounding in skilled nursing or other post-acute facilities, and some are focusing the entirety of their practice in the post-acute setting. Under the current CMS definition, these hospitalists are not hospital-based and will, therefore, be subject to the upcoming penalties for not being meaningful users of EHR technology.

Contrary to the 90% threshold, the reality for post-acute hospitalists is that when it comes to EHRs, they are no different than their hospital-based colleagues. A hospitalist, irrespective of setting, has very little control over what kind of technology, if any, a facility invests in.

For hospitalists who are rounding or spending more of their practice time in post-acute facilities, this mechanical classification based on practice location alone is problematic. A physician-implemented EHR is not practical and does not make sense given the unique practice patterns of hospitalists. Although SHM remains strongly committed to the promise represented by health information technology (HIT), SHM consistently has noted to CMS that hospitalist practice does not always fit the confines of their rulemaking.

Hospitalists should not be penalized for failure to implement their own HIT, because they already use facility EHRs or lack control over the availability of EHR systems. It is for these reasons that SHM has been a strong advocate for an additional exemption that works for hospitalists—an exemption that recognizes lack of control of availability.

In August, CMS released the final rule for Stage 2 of Meaningful Use, and the voice of hospitalists was clearly heard. The rule includes an SHM advanced-hardship exemption acknowledging that EPs who practice in multiple locations, such as nursing homes, could face a significant hardship as they would have no way to control the use of Certified EHR Technology (CEHRT). In promulgating the exemption, CMS specifically states that a “physician merely sees patients at the center or home, and does not have any other interest in the facility; they would exert little to no influence over whether the nursing home, center, or other similar outpatient site adopts and implements CEHRT.” Hospitalists seeking this exemption would need to apply annually for up to five years.

This hardship exemption could apply to hospitalists who work in multiple facilities outside of hospitals, such as nursing homes. Although imperfect due to the time-limited nature, the exemption represents a victory in the effort to differentiate HM from traditional practice patterns. It is precisely this difference that makes HM uniquely positioned to lead changes in the healthcare system.

Josh Boswell is SHM’s interim senior manager of government relations.

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