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BREAKING NEWS: Russ Branzell Speaks First to Healthcare Informatics about CHIME’s Proposal for a One-Year Extension of Stage 2 of Meaningful Use

May 6, 2013
by Mark Hagland
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CHIME's Russ Branzell speaks first to Healthcare Informatics about the association's policy push on Stage 2 of meaningful use

On May 6, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) issued a formal response to a critique by six Republican U.S. senators of the meaningful use process under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. CHIME’s leaders called for a one-year extension of Stage 2 under meaningful use, arguing that such a move would “maximize the opportunity of program success.”

In responding to the April 15 release of a white paper by six Republican senators (John Thune, S.D.; Lamar Alexander, Tenn.; Pat Roberts, Kan.; Richard Burr, N.C.; Tom Coburn, Okla.; and Mike Enzi, Wyo.) calling for what those senators had said was a needed “reboot” of the meaningful use process under the HITECH Act and asserting that the program itself was fundamentally flawed, CHIME’s leaders, wrote a letter  to those senators, signed by Russell P. Branzell, CHIME’s president and CEO, and George T. “Buddy” Hickman, CHIME’s board chair. In the letter, CHIME’s leaders said, “While we share some of your concerns with the current state of interoperability, we strongly believe that EHR [electronic health record] incentive payments under the policy of meaningful use have been essential in moving the nation’s healthcare system into the 21st century. One of the goals behind meaningful use is to eliminate inconsistency and variability long-since built into healthcare information technology systems.” CHIME’s leaders strongly defended the core foundations of the program against the accusations launched by the six senators, while asserting that a one-year extension of Stage 2 of meaningful use was called for.

The release of the letter coincides with an immediate policy push: on Tuesday, May 7, CHIME will hold its first-ever CHIME Public Policy Symposium in Washington, D.C., emceed by Russ Branzell, in which healthcare CIOs will share their experiences and perspectives on meaningful use with an intended audience of congressional staff, federal agency staff, and healthcare IT vendor executives. Among the CHIME leader CIOs who will participate will be Randy McCleese, Chuck Christian, Albert Oriol, Pamela Aurora, Neal Ganguly, and Susan Heichert (CIOs of  St. Clair Regional Medical Center, St. Francis Hospital, Rady Children’s Hospital of San Diego, Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, CentraState Health System, and Allina Hospitals and Clinics, respectively). Then on Wednesday, May 8, Branzell will lead a delegation of CHIME leaders to meet with staffs of several of the six Republican senators behind the “reboot” proposal, as well as with staffs of a number of other members of Congress.

Branzell will also be participating in the Healthcare Informatics Executive Summit, to be held may 15-17, in San Francisco. He will be the opening keynote speaker on May 16, when he will speak on the topic, "Charting a New Course in Healthcare: How Organized IT Leadership Can Actively Shape Healthcare's Future."

Upon the announcement by the CHIME organization on Monday morning, Russ Branzell gave HCI’s Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland the industry’s first interview on this subject. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Would you describe this set of activities this week as an unprecedented policy push on the part of CHIME?

I’m not sure it’s unprecedented. This is a public policy position and HIT industry request in answer to, one, the senatorial reboot white paper; and two, a reaction to HHS and CMS [the federal Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT], relative to where we are relative to the state of the industry. And obviously, part of this will be our proposal for a one-year an extension to Stage 2.

Russell P. Branzell

How do you view the “reboot” letter and white paper? Do you see it as a fundamentally political response to the White House’s efforts around HITECH?

Actually, the way I see it is that those senators are duly responsible elected officials, and as agents of the people have full right and authority to question how federal money is spent; I think it’s their duty to do so.

Still, the “reboot” white paper is a pretty severe indictment of the HITECH program at a fundamental level, isn’t it?

You can read that memo and white paper in a lot of different ways. We at CHME believe that the implementation of HI technologies is exactly the right thing to do, which is why HITECH was created in the first place, and was the right thing to do. There are definitely recommendations in that white paper that we agree with, in terms of interoperability, better patient matching, and outcomes realization. But even within those areas, ONC is working on those concerns. And if you look at the three major cycles of meaningful use, stage 1 was intended to push initial implementation. Stage two was always intended to blend further implementation with interoperability. Are we all heading absolutely true north? Not quite. But healthcare IT leaders have given their blood, sweat and tears in the past few years—now, have we seen all the benefits from it yet? Not yet, no. But having lived through those change cycles myself, you have to give kudos to what the field has done.

So obviously, you’re not endorsing the totality of the “reboot” proposal?