HHS: Guidance on health IT switch expected in summer

HHS will offer guidance and specifications by early summer on what constitutes "meaningful use" of information technology for healthcare providers so they can qualify for incentives included in a $19 billion section of the economic stimulus package intended to spur a nationwide system of electronic medical records.

HHS National Health IT Coordinator David Blumenthal said today his team is very aware of deadlines imposed by Congress and wants to give health providers the best possible chance to cash in on about $17 billion in Medicare and Medicaid incentives. Starting in 2011, physicians who qualify will be eligible for Medicare bonuses; those who are not compliant by 2015 could see their Medicare reimbursement cut. Also in 2011, hospitals will be eligible for bonus payments, while "critical access" facilities could get expedited treatment. Blumenthal stressed that the health IT effort is "joined at the hip" with Congress' healthcare reform agenda.

On May 18, HHS will unveil its concept and plans for community-based health IT regional extension centers, which will be followed by two days of meetings on how to implement what Blumenthal called a "vast set" of programs on which the centers will focus.

In early summer, the department expects to announce additional grant opportunities for training, workforce development, and programs that facilitate health IT exchange. By that time, the agency will be sharing views of how "meaningful use" should be defined and how the government plans to revise, if at all, the health IT certification process.

Blumenthal would not say whether he wants to replace the existing body, which has drawn criticism from some providers whose systems have not been accredited. He said the certification group has had a tough job, and he wants to learn from its record. HHS will get advice on that topic and other issues from a pair of health IT advisory committees created by the stimulus bill. Both panels will hold their inaugural meetings next week.