Home Health, EHRs and Data Interoperability

In 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services launched the “Meaningful Use (MU) initiative to incentivize certain sectors in the US health care system to move toward electronic health records (EHR) that would be used in a meaningful manner that allows for the electronic exchange of information to improve continuity and quality of care. Significant financial incentives were provided to “eligible providers” – essentially defined as hospitals and physician practices. More than $20 billion was spent and more that 600,000 eligible providers were enrolled. Home health, behavioral health and skilled nursing facilities were not eligible.

Now, it seems there is some limited acknowledgement that it may be time to rethink that. In a proposed rule relative to interoperability just published in the Federal Register, CMS is including – as a Request for Information – an ask for any feedback as to how to improve data interoperability for providers that have as yet received any incentives for using electronic health records.

“Transitions across care settings have been characterized as common, complicated, costly, and potentially hazardous for individuals with complex health needs. Yet despite the need for functionality to support better care coordination, discharge planning, and timely transfer of essential health information, interoperability by certain health care providers such as long term and PAC, behavioral health, and home and community-based services continues to lag behind acute care providers,” the proposed rule says.

CMS acknowledges that a contributing factor to the lag in Interoperability among post-acute care providers was that they were not eligible for incentives under the program formally known as meaningful use. CMS asks for input on specific ways it could financially help these sectors adopt and use technology.

CMS also asks for feedback on measurement concepts and quality improvement steps that could feasibly be applied to post-acute care, behavioral health and home and community based-services providers. Given that mandate in the IMPACT ACT that certain patient assessment data should be standardized and CMS is interested in feedback as to what parts of that data set — or the whole IMPACT Act data set — would be appropriate to include.

Adding some fuel to what may be an obvious fire (no incentive = limited movement) is a just published study in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association that examined gaps in communication between hospital and home health care staff, concluding that some could have serious medical consequences.

The authors surveyed nurses and staff at 56 home health agencies throughout Colorado. Participants were sent a 48-question survey covering communication between hospitals and agencies, patient safety, pending tests, medication schedules, clinician contact and other areas. Although almost all (96 percent) respondents indicated that Internet-based access to a patient’s hospital record would be at least somewhat useful, fewer than half reported having access to EHRs for referring hospitals or clinics. No surprise: getting medication doses right due to conflicting information was identified as a major problem.

Their conclusion: Future interventions to improve communication between the hospital and HHC should aim to improve preparation of patients and caregivers to ensure they know what to expect from HHC and to provide access to EHR information for HHC agencies.

Comments to CMS will be due in April. Date not yet announced.

Return to www.thinkhomecare.org.

Author: Pat Kelleher

Pat Kelleher is Executive Director of the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts.

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