On December 6, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that the deadline for healthcare providers to meet Stage 2 standards for “meaningful use” of electronic health records (EHRs) will be postponed by one year, to 2016. Stage 3 will now begin in 2017 for providers who have completed two years of Stage 2 by then.

Stage 1 had focused on the creation of electronic health information, and Stage 2 includes many other specific requirements and objectives for the recording, use and exchange of information electronically. Among them is that doctors and hospitals transmit patient records electronically when making referrals, even when the records are sent to a provider that uses a different EHR system; the requirement is intended to encourage EHR software vendors to make their systems compatible with one another. Other Stage 2 objectives include use of e-prescribing and providing patients the ability to view online, download and transmit their own health information. 

Standards for Stage 3, which will focus on improving treatment outcomes, are expected to be released in 2015. The government will analyze Stage 2 participation data in making policy decisions for Stage 3. 

The one-year postponement of the start of Stage 3 was announced by Robert Tagalicod, director of CMS’s Office of E-Health Standards and Services, and Dr. Jacob Reider, HHS’s Acting National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, in a blog post. This delay follows the prior similar delay of the start of Stage 2, which corresponded with a one-year extension of Stage 1. Federal lawmakers had pushed for the new delay, which was also welcomed by the American Medical Association and other trade associations. 

“Early adopter” healthcare providers who began using EHRs in or around 2011 were able to claim larger shares of the billions of dollars in incentive payments authorized by the 2009 federal stimulus bill. According to CMS, 85% of eligible hospitals and over 60% of eligible doctors and other professionals had received incentive payments as of October. Laggards who don’t meet EHR standards by 2015 will find their Medicare reimbursements reduced by 1% in 2015, 2% in 2016 and 3% for every year thereafter. 

Doctors and other eligible professionals who have met Stage 1 requirements for at least two years will be able to begin Stage 2 next month.  Hospitals that satisfied Stage 1 requirements for at least two years have already advanced to Stage 2 beginning in October.