By Erica Noonan, Vital Signs Editor
WALTHAM — Physicians are typically first in line when it comes to technology that can help them treat patients.
As early adopters of electronic health records and enthusiastic supporters of the earliest stages of Meaningful Use, typical physicians are eager to try new things and work with new tools.
“Doctors are digital omnivores,” AMA President Steve Stack, MD, an emergency department physician. “We adopt technology at a blistering pace when we work, and when it helps us take care of patients.”
That is why the physician-led movement to delay the implementation of Meaningful Use Stage 3 is so relevant, he said. With only 12% percent of eligible physicians and 38% of eligible hospitals nationwide able to meet the requirements of MU Stage 2, the move to the next stage is untenable and the pressures are driving physicians out of practice.
More than 100 physicians attended the AMA’s Break the Red Tape town hall meeting Sept. 29, hosted by MMS Vice President Henry Dorkin, MD, at MMS Headquarters in Waltham, to describe how misguided federal regulations had profoundly impacted their practices.
Most had stories of lost productivity, useful patient health initiatives put aside for lack of time and resources, and tens of thousands of dollars spent per practice annually on information technology fees in attempts to meet Meaningful Use requirements. Many questioned why physicians are held responsible and penalized when software programs from outside vendors fail to work properly.
“We treat the patient and save the lives. We shouldn’t have to write the software code for the EHR and be told we are a failure because the EHRs can’t talk to each other. The penalty programs are on us, not the vendors,” said Dr. Stack.
Matthew Gold, MD, a Massachusetts neurologist asked: “In what other system are the end users penalized? Quality measures need to be specialty specific and relate to patient care. Too much time is taken for things that are irrelevant and take away from patient care.”
Several participants mentioned colleagues who have stopped practicing medicine because of Meaningful Use rules, leaving thousands of Massachusetts patients — many senior or disabled in western Massachusetts — struggling to find a primary care provider.
Past MMS President Ronald Dunlap, MD, estimated imposed meaningful use requirements had slowed his staff down by 30 percent. “Our productivity has been hammered by this,” he said.
MMS Secretary-Treasurer Alain Chaoui, MD, a family physician, described himself as an “early and enthusiastic” EHR adopter. “I thought Meaningful Use was in best interest of patients in 2011 and I did everything I could to comply with Meaningful Use stages 1 and 2,” said Dr. Chaoui. “Even with my best intentions to take care of my patients, the pressures have landed only the medical profession. I don’t see pressures on the vendors to make them compliant and interoperable.”
Lloyd Fisher, MD, a pediatrician and director of infomatics for Reliant Medical Group, said Meaningful Use Stage 2 failed to take into account practice demographics, penalizing physicians with large numbers of Medicare and Medicaid patients. “We don’t need a disincentive to treat the neediest patients. They need to change the rules,” he said.
The AMA’s campaign pushes for delay for Stage 3 rules until at least 2017, and major improvements in EHR interoperability. “This is the wrong time for Meaningful Use Stage 3,” said Dr. Stack. “We need to take time to learn from the stages we already have and do Stage 3 right.”