Health Care IT Industry Digests Stage 2 Guidelines on 'Meaningful Use'

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has proposed new rules on data encryption and EHR interoperability in its newly released Stage 2 meaningful-use guidelines.

Although new federal guidelines on electronic health record (EHR) use bring few changes for IT vendors, doctors and hospitals will need to take note of some changes regarding encryption, data sharing and electronic entry of care directions.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released its Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) for Stage 2 requirements governing meaningful use of EHRs and published the document in the Federal Register.

Under the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, eligible health care professionals can qualify for government incentives if they implement "meaningful use" of EHRs.

Health care providers now have an extra year to meet Stage 1 criteria. All EHR applications must be certified under Stage 2 by 2014 for providers to receive incentives from the federal government. Stage 2 rules are now in a comment period for six months.

CMS announced the Stage 2 rules on Feb. 23 at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Las Vegas.

In Stage 2, CMS has added guidelines regarding secure messaging and encrypting data at rest.

Vendors' current EHR applications can handle these security requirements, said Erica Drazen, managing director for the Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices at health care consulting firm CSC. "Encryption for data at rest was a new requirement under privacy, so that may be something that vendors need to be responding to, but in general it's not going to be such a huge change for the vendor community," Drazen told eWEEK.

Incentive guidelines will need to be structured to encourage providers and IT vendors to share data, according to Dr. Wendy Whittington, chief medical officer of health care IT services vendor Anthelio Healthcare Solutions.

"While the emphasis on health information exchange highlighted in the rules provides hope, an important question remains€”how is this financially sustainable?" Whittington said in a statement. "The document briefly acknowledges that this has been a problem in the past, but it doesn't explain how we're going to overcome the issue and align incentives in a way that makes health care providers and vendors more interested in sharing."