Proposed rules for stage 2 of the federal government’s electronic health record (EHR) incentive program were issued in late February, and the reaction from the radiology community has been somewhat favorable (unlike its response to the rules for stage 1). Proposed rules from CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for HIT include specific requests from the ACR® that will add relevance and needed flexibility to the program for radiologists, according to Mike Peters, director of legislative and regulatory affairs in the ACR’s government-relations department.
“We have a pretty big platform of asks that we’ve been pushing for in terms of recommended changes to CMS and ONC regulations. I would say that almost all of our asks were addressed, to some degree—not all the way, but they were included, to a certain degree.”
—Mike Peters, ACR
CMS issued proposed rules for health-care professionals and hospitals attesting to meaningful EHR use for incentive payments in stage 2 of the program, while the HHS Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) put out proposed rules for certifying EHR technology. Comments on each set of rules will be accepted through the first week of May, with the final rules expected this summer.
Practices that begin attesting this year for stage 1 will not forfeit any of the combined $44,000 (over five years) available, per eligible professional, for complying. Physicians will, however, lose a portion of incentive pay if they wait until 2013, with penalties for noncompliance set to begin in 2015. The federal government had already made $2.5 billion in incentive payments by the end of 2011, according to CMS.
More Flexibility for Radiology
Some of the biggest improvements for radiologists in the proposed rule include greater flexibility in meeting some of the core measures. For hospitals and physicians, there is a new menu-set objective for access to diagnostic imaging data. It is not clear, however, that this proposed menu set objective is meant to be for the ordering or rendering physicians. In addition, CMS has included clinical quality measures that are directly relevant to radiologists, Peters says. These include:
- breast-cancer screening rates;
- use of probably benign assessment in screening mammography;
- colorectal-cancer screening rates;
- osteoporosis screening;
- use of imaging studies for low-back pain, in the absence of progressive symptoms;
- CT or MRI reports for stroke patients that include documentation of the presence or absence of hemorrhages, mass lesions, and acute infarcts;
- stenosis measurement in carotid imaging studies;
- use of contrast in thoracic CT exams;
- exposure time for fluoroscopy procedures; and
- radiation-dose limits for oncology.
Another important change in the proposed rules came on the technology side, from ONC: No longer will radiologists or other specialists need to implement technology that corresponds to measures from which they were excluded, according to the proposed rule. Currently, certified EHR technology must have the ability to meet certain requirements, even if the provider using that equipment may be excluded from that particular measure. In many cases, the rule required radiologists, essentially, to buy things that they didn’t need.
“We’ve been pushing for this for a long time,” Peters says. “It’s a huge leap in flexibility for eligible professionals and for specialized health IT that doesn’t necessarily fall under what you think of as a traditional EHR product.”
Out of the Starting GateAmong the physicians who have attested to stage 1 meaningful use are 269 diagnostic radiologists, 29 interventional radiologists, 85 radiation oncologists, and seven nuclear medicine physicians, according to the 2011 figures released by CMS. The current regulatory scheme requires those physicians begin stage 2 compliance in 2013. However, the latest proposed rule includes a change that would require these participants to spend a third year in stage 1, beginning stage 2 no sooner than 2014.
Of the 85 radiologists of University Radiology (East Brunswick, New Jersey), 75 have attested to stage 1 meaningful use, amounting to an incentive payment of about $1.2 million last year, according to Alberto Goldszal, PhD, CIO. The group serves five hospitals and 12 freestanding imaging centers.
While the stage 1 standards were not particularly relevant to radiologists, Goldszal says, he was still