The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on Friday that Stage 2 meaningful use for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR (electronic health record) Incentive Programs will be extended through 2016, and Stage 3 will not begin until at least fiscal year 2017 for hospitals and calendar year 2017 for physicians and other eligible professionals that have by then completed at least two years at Stage 2.

As reported by the U. S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Health IT Buzz, a statement by Robert Tagalicod, director, Office of E-Health Standards and Services, CMS, and Jacob Reider, M.D., acting national coordinator for health information technology for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), said that there are two goals of this change: (1) to allow CMS and ONC to focus on the successful implementation of the enhanced patient engagement, interoperability, and health information exchange requirements in Stage 2; and (2) to utilize data from Stage 2 participation to inform policy decisions for Stage 3.

Meaningful use is the set of standards defined by the CMS Incentive Programs that governs the use of electronic health records and allows eligible providers and hospitals to earn incentive payments by meeting specific criteria.  The goal of meaningful use is to promote the spread of electronic health records to improve health care in the United States.

Meaningful use is spread out over three stages.  The phased approach helps providers move from creating information in Stage 1, to exchanging health information in Stage 2, to focusing on improved outcomes in Stage 3.  The requirements for meeting each stage of meaningful use is available on CMS’ website.

The proposed rules for the requirements providers must meet for Stage 3 are expected to be released in the fall of 2014.  A separate rule extending Stage 2 by a year is expected sooner.