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Beacon Partners’ Bruce Eckert on the Proposed Stage 3 Rule for Meaningful Use—and Beyond

April 14, 2015
by Mark Hagland
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Beacon Partners national practice director Bruce Eckert shares his perspectives on meaningful use, PHRs, and our data-driven future

Bruce Eckert, the national practice director at Beacon Partners Healthcare Management Consultants, leads the strategy, business intelligence, and meaningful use teams at the Weymouth, Mass.-based consulting firm, which recently merged with the New York-based KPMG.

In a meeting at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland on Monday, April 13 during the HIMSS Conference, Eckert responded to Hagland’s questions about meaningful use and other issues facing the industry.

Asked about the proposed change to Stage 2 meaningful use requirements that would change the previous requirement that eligible providers get 5 percent of their patients to view, download, and transmit their health information to requiring that only one patient do so—with the anticipation that 25 percent of patients must then view, download and transmit under Stage 3, he admitted that he was as puzzled as everyone else seemed to be, and expressed the hope that federal officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) would clarify that point soon.

Below are additional excerpts from their Monday interview.

What do you think of the Stage 3 proposed rule overall?

I like the structure, in that they're very compressed things down to 8 measures, and the menu sets are embedded in the measures. And they're collecting higher level data than before. So it's a nice framework. And we just did a HIMSS focus group around patient engagement. We had 12 people. Not universally but many are having challenges getting patients to use portals. Not so many problems with secure messaging, because the patients find value in it. So what the patients find value in, works well.

One of the challenges, it seems, continues to be timelines. Your thoughts?

Clearly in my mind, CMS is still trying to recover from the 2014 vendor certification debacle, with a lack of time to catch up. And they're setting up possibly the same timeline compression on the vendor side again coming into Stage 3. But I do think we've learned something from the 2014 CEHRT debacle. And perhaps this flexibility will help, because it might provide some breathing room for organizations.

You’ve just finished moderating a focus group with a diverse group of healthcare IT leaders. What kinds of concerns did they talk about?

They talked about things like appointment reminders, and push messaging for diagnostic results. And they didn't seem to think the patient education element in meaningful use would be difficult.

Overall, how did they perceive the challenges of Stage 3?

Most said it would be challenging, but doable, as long as they get the 2015 CEHRT in, in time. There's nothing really revolutionary in Stage 3, to be honest. And though it's not specifically on there, I think we'll see widespread adoption of PHRs, because a lot of the requirements wrap around that.

Who will manage the personal health record has long been a practical issue in the industry. Has that question been resolved?

Not entirely, but there will be third parties. And if you look at how HealthKit and HealthVault are architected, they really do give the patient the power. So I really do see third party vendors doing this. The issue would be whether they would be considered business associates under HIPAA. But if they add data in, the providers, then they would be covered. But I’ll predict that PHRs will be widely adopted under Stage 3. And I think we're approaching the end of the HIE [health information exchange] era. I attended the ONC's annual meeting in February. And they had a panel with all the former national coordinators together. And one of them said, the honest truth we have to face is that there's no business model for HIEs. That's evidence number one And look at the way meaningful is going. CMS is effectively supporting DIRECT protocols. I can see that whole infrastructure development—from regional HIEs to state HIEs to some anticipated nationwide infrastructure, simply not coming to fruition in the end. I think we're going to see the end of HIEs.

What should our audience be thinking about in the next few years?

Having more data, better data, and the ability to analyze data, will be key. Those organizations that manage and analyze data better will succeed, those that don't, won't. And we really moving in the direction of intensive data consumption, analytics, and management going forward, partly because of the impact of meaningful use.