Why Clinicians Need a 2015 Certified EHR

By Lisa Eramo  |  January 15, 2018

What does “2015 Certified EHR” mean to clinicians? The once-flooded EHR market is now whittling down to those vendors equipped to respond to regulatory and industry changes. The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology listed more than 4,000 EHRs with 2014 certification criteria, according to the most recent data from healthIT.gov. And to date, only 200 EHRs have passed the rigorous 2015 certification criteria. 

However, beyond the fact that 2015 is indeed the most recent certification criteria as issued by the HHS, why should medical practices care?  

When vendors certify their EHRs, physicians—and patients—are ultimately the beneficiaries, says Beth Onofri, EHR and industry advisor at Kareo, who led the 2015 Certification process for the Kareo Clinical EHR. Physicians benefit because the technology allows them to easily attest that they’ve met quality requirements specified in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). This includes Advancing Care Information (ACI)-related measures that help physicians boost their payments. ACI accounts for 25 percent of a physician’s performance score that dictates reimbursement under the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). Patients benefit because they’re able to access and exchange their own health information more easily than ever before. It’s a win-win all around, says Onofri.

"The 2015 criteria require functionality supporting unprecedented patient engagement, care coordination, and information exchange, all of which bodes well for physicians striving to improve outcomes." —Beth Onofri, EHR and industry advisor at Kareo

Although using a certified EHR is important, implementing one that’s certified using only the 2015 criteria (not the 2014 criteria or a combination of the two) is a critical piece of the puzzle under MACRA, says Onofri. EHRs certified with the 2015 criteria help pave the way for physicians to receive a bonus in 2018. In addition, the 2015 criteria require functionality that supports unprecedented patient engagement, care coordination, and information exchange, all of which bodes well for physicians striving to improve outcomes.

Still, many physicians aren’t aware of how the 2015 certification criteria can help their practices, says Onofri.

Of the 60 different 2015 certification criteria, Onofri says these five are particularly helpful for practices seeking to improve the quality of the care they provide, ultimately fostering accurate payments under value-based payment reform:

1. View, download, and transmit health information to a third party

The 2015 criteria require a secure method of access (usually through a patient portal) as well as the ability to send information to an unsecured email address of the patient’s choice, says Onofri. The idea is that offering various access options improves overall patient engagement and outcomes.

She suggests creating a brochure that explains to patients how they can access and use the portal, including how to view, download, and transmit their health information. Another idea is to recruit a volunteer who can show patients how to use the portal while they wait in the waiting area. “There needs to be a strong advocate in each practice to make sure that these functionalities are implemented and used,” she adds. “Those practices with an advocate are the ones that will succeed.”

2. Secure messaging

This functionality allows physicians to send messages to—and receive messages from—patients in a secure manner, helping to improve engagement and communication. Practices must define how they’ll use secure messaging, including who will respond and what types of questions they’ll permit (e.g., fulfill appointment requests vs. answering clinical inquiries). “There are a small percentage of doctors who will want to answer their own messages, but there is a larger percentage of doctors who will want their staff to answer the emails and, if necessary, escalate to the provider,” says Onofri.

3. Patient health information capture

This functionality allows physicians to accept patient-generated health data into the EHR. For example, Onofri notes that the Kareo Clinical 2015 Edition EHR allows patients to record their health information at home to easily upload the information to their portal and transmit it securely to the physician for shared decision-making. The idea is that access to more comprehensive health data can help physicians prevent and manage disease—and it could be a game-changer in terms of population health management.

Start small when rolling out this functionality, she says. For instance, encourage patients with high blood pressure to upload their blood readings daily before engaging a second population (e.g., those with diabetes who upload their glucose levels).

4. Transitions of care

This functionality calls for interoperable documents that include key health data (e.g., name, date of birth, and medications) as well as standardized format for exchange. A transition of care summary provides critical information as patients transfer between different physicians at different health organizations or even distinct levels of care within the same organization.

“It’s not uncommon for our providers to send the referral right as they are completing the note with the patient in the room,” says Onofri. “This obviously speeds the care coordination for patients in terms of seeing another doctor.” The only caveat is that practices must compile a list of direct email addresses for physicians to whom patients are frequently referred, she adds.

5. Application programming interfaces (APIs)

“This is one of those requirements that is the foundation of things to come,” says Onofri. “It’s the first step toward interoperability.” API functionality will eventually allow patients to aggregate data from multiple sources in a web or mobile application of their choice.

Physicians who take the time to explore each of these 2015 certification functionalities may be more likely to improve outcomes and reap financial rewards under MACRA, says Onofri. "The improved functionality is there—is your practice taking advantage of it?"

This article was first published on Healthcare Scene

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