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NJ-HITEC readies for Stage 1 Meaningful Use deadline

By Patrick Ouellette

- It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Regional Extension Centers (RECs) are the handiworks of meaningful use attestation, filling the necessary gaps and offering advice when called upon. These handiworks are going to be put to the test over the next five weeks.

The New Jersey Health Information Technology Extension Center (NJ-HITEC) is keenly aware of the Oct. 3 deadline for healthcare providers to achieve Stage 1 Meaningful Use and understands that while it’s helped more than 1,100 providers attest, there’s still work to be done.

RECs such as NJ-HITEC have critical roles in ensuring providers know the meaningful use deadlines and requirements. They assist healthcare providers with meaningful use based on their individual needs and are important to providers lacking the capital or resources necessary to receive full incentive funds. Its job is unique in that works with about 30 participating vendors and doesn’t promote one product over another when evaluating provider options. Step one is to sign a participation agreement, which makes them eligible for a NJ-HITEC workflow assessment.

“Most of the decisions that doctors make are predicated on the amount of money they want to spend,” Bill O’Byrne, NJ-HITEC Executive Director said. “Some of that is based on age, practice demographics. Some want bare minimum and other want more expensive systems…so we are guided by their budget.”

NJ-HITEC services were free of charge for the first 6,000 primary care providers, but now providers without a system will be charged $500 per year. Those who have a system and have gone live qualify for the free services.

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“Our role is working directly with providers. Once the doctor makes the selection, then we’ll act more as a consumer protection agent to help make sure the doctor gets what they pay for,” O’Byrne said. “And that sometimes requires us to remind the vendors that they have responsibilities to the providers and us to give doctors what they’re entitled to.”

Meaningful use creeping up

For many physicians, meaningful use is almost a taboo term that serves as more of an annoyance than anything else. But a great deal of those practices need incentive funds as soon as possible and want to get the process over with as soon as possible. RECs that do their job can expedite attestation once the doctor gets what they’re supposed to get from the vendor and they’ve achieved go-live status.

“That’s when we come back into the picture – that Oct. 3 timeframe is coming up and going to hit us right in the face,” O’Byrne said. “Our purpose here is to be able to start a doctor on the 90 days that they need to become a meaningful user. And really, if you wait until Oct. 3 to try to do it, you’re going to have difficulty.”

Medicare doctors can lose up to $5,000 if they delay on this so NJ-HITEC is doing everything it can between now and the end of September to get doctors to buy something, to execute contracts, and to start gathering the data.

Fast Track Workshops

NJ-HITEC has a large group of meaningful use analysts that go out to doctors’ offices, do gap analysis and work them through the attestation process. The group did its meaningful use numbers yesterday and 1,151 primary care physicians have attested, which takes them well above 20% that’s the ONC gold standard. O’Byrne maintains that one of the reasons the REC is surging ahead with meaningful use is these fast track programs and large volumes of meaningful use attestation. The workshops will have someone from their attestation team and the vendor’s team to focus only on meaningful use in a local, group setting.

“ONC was impressed with fast track program because it brings in large cohorts of doctors that are using one particular EHR system through meaningful use attestation all at one time,” O’Byrne said. “It gives us ability to reach more doctors at one time. Because of time restraints, it has become very valuable.”

Meaningful use barriers

It obviously isn’t always easy helping customers with meaningful use work and there are bound to be obstacles along the way. According to NJ-HITEC, here are a few problems they’ve encountered:

- Clinical summaries – not easy to collect volume of patient visits

- Vendors sometimes have trouble connecting to states’ registries.

- Providers not knowing how to capture data

- Providers misunderstanding Stage 1 clinical quality measures – they don’t realize that they can leave zeros and still qualify and attest.

Building a specialist membership

NJ-HITEC has made a concerted effort toward bringing in specialists with its Medicaid specialist program that trains these specialists to achieve meaningful use. New Jersey Medicaid specialists that qualify for incentive money get same incentives as primary care providers free of charge and Medicaid picks up the bill.Primary care providers are always interacting with specialists and they want a place where they can exchange referrals and secure email,” O’Byrne said.

So NJ-HITEC has done well in both the short term and long term with its clients in helping them achieve meaningful use while expanding its services to better meet customer needs. RECs will be important going forward as providers begin working on the not-yet-finalized Stage 2.

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