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August 17, 2010

RHIOs Can Help Physicians Qualify for "Meaningful Use" Stimulus Payment for Adopting EHR Technology

The Department of Health and Human Services has released the final rules regarding "meaningful use" for the adoption of electronic health records (EHR). Compared to the proposed rule, the standards in the final rule actually lower the bar as to what a provider needs to do to achieve meaningful use which will make it easier for providers to get their share of the $27.3 billion in federal stimulus funding.1 However, consistent with the proposed regulations, providers that fail to achieve meaningful use by 2015 will be subjected to reduced federal reimbursement rates.

One of the primary purposes of the stimulus money is to attract more end-users for the nation's health information exchange infrastructure. A massive undertaking, the development of the health information exchange has been a collaborative process involving the federal government, state governments, hospitals and insurers. Goals of the health information exchange include improving the quality, safety, and efficiency of care, as well as reducing health disparities and improving health care coordination. To make this exchange work as intended, patient data is required, which means providers must adopt the proper EHR equipment.

This is where RHIOs fit in. RHIOs, Regional Health Information Organizations, are organizations of stakeholders from a particular geographic area that collaborate to assist in the electronic exchange of medical information. In New York, there are currently 13 RHIOs that are recognized by the State, each serving a distinct geographic area of the State. The NY RHIOs are encouraged to work collaboratively with the Department of Health to achieve seamless exchange of data to and from providers throughout the State.

RHIOs can provide guidance to providers as they implement EHR systems. It is to the advantage of providers to work with their RHIO since RHIOs will serve as the intermediary to ensure interconnectivity among providers, thereby helping providers achieve meaningful use.

For example, the final rule for meaningful use requires providers to have the capability to exchange key clinical information (such as medication lists, medication allergies, diagnostic test results) among providers of care. To ensure for the safe exchange of this information, the provider must take into account the security of the network and whether the patient has given them the right to share this information. If the information exchange occurs through the RHIO, the RHIO will ensure that these concerns are accounted for. RHIOs are developing secure networks for the sharing of sensitive health information, and they have also been working with guidance from the State DOH and the NY e-Health Collaborative to help ensure that proper patient consent policies are in place.

New York's RHIOs are at different levels of development. One NY RHIO is at the point where it can offer providers supplemental funding as a further incentive for providers to adopt EHR technology (this is in addition to federal stimulus funding). Even though not all RHIOs can offer such incentives, RHIOs are a resource that is available and should be utilized as providers begin to adopt EHR technology.

Hiscock & Barclay, LLP represents several of New York's approved RHIOs, in addition to a large number of RHIO stakeholders and RHIO participants (including physician practices, labs and pharmacies). If you are a provider and would like more information about RHIOs and the benefits of RHIO participation, please contact us. If you are a RHIO or are a stakeholder in a RHIO, please contact Hiscock & Barclay to learn how our experience can help effectively plan for, implement and sustain a RHIO clinical data exchange.

1 For more information regarding the availability of the stimulus funding, please see the February, 2010 Legal Alert, Path Emerging for Medical Professionals to Receive their EHR Stimulus Dollars.


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