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ONC widens scope of EHR incentives program

December 11, 2014
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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The Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentives Program, geared primarily to hospitals and other acute care providers, may be expanded to include a wider field of care delivery settings, including long-term care, according to proposed revisions released this week by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

The incentive program, created under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, provides higher reimbursements for qualifying providers who can demonstrate the meaningful use of an EHR. More than 400,000 hospitals and acute care providers already participate in the program, but its reach didn’t extend to other provider settings. As a result, although EHR adoption has increased significantly in the past five years, the use of health information technology "remains low among providers practicing in long-term services and supports, post-acute care and behavioral health settings," the new ONC proposal states.

Today’s emphasis on data exchange and connectivity prompted the ONC and other participating agencies to propose a broader reach for the program to encompass more of the care chain. The new proposal "aims to expand health IT adoption and use efforts across the care continuum, emphasizing assistance for healthcare providers serving long-term and post-acute care, behavioral health, community-based and other populations ineligible to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentives Programs. In addition, this goal aims to expand the adoption and use of a broader set of technologies, including telehealth and mobile health," the proposal adds.

The expanded goals of the program will necessitate expansions in ONC’s health information technology certification program as well, to account for technologies designed for providers beyond hospital walls—including telehealth initiatives and mobile technologies—and consistent standards across the care continuum. "To promote consistent standards implementation and reduce implementation variability, the federal government will continue to work with standards development organizations...and industry stakeholders to assure that newer versions of standards and implementation specifications more clearly and more often describe discrete requirements," notes the ONC proposal. "We will also identify and collaborate on the development and deployment of more modular technical standards and specifications for nationwide interoperability that can allow for more seamless transitions to new technology systems in the future."

As provider and payer agencies continue to advance population health and person-centered care models, health IT will be called on to play a greater role in offering providers the tools needed to evaluate population complexities, manage cost and improve outcomes. Investing in research to determine the best technologies to fulfill these goals is also paramount, the proposal explains: "Many health IT studies focus on whether health IT improves health care and health outcomes; however, not as many studies focus on how to implement health IT solutions in ways that ensure that health IT meets its full potential."

For more information, read the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan proposal.