On April 24, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) made major changes to the electronic health record (“EHR”) Meaningful Use Program.  Issued as part of a proposed rule updating the Medicare Inpatient Prospective Payment System and Long-Term Care Hospital Prospective Payment System requirements, these changes will significantly shift an important program that helped drive the widespread adoption of EHR tools in the U.S. healthcare industry.

CMS’s stated goals are to transform the Meaningful Use Program to make it more flexible and less burdensome, emphasize measures that require the exchange of health information between providers and patients, and incentivize providers to make it easier for patients to obtain their medical records electronically.  Reflecting a changed focus, the new program will no longer be called “Meaningful Use.”  Instead, it will now be known as the “Promoting Interoperability” program.  The proposed rule includes requirements that providers use the 2015 edition of certified EHR technology in 2019 in order to demonstrate meaningful use, avoid penalties, and qualify for incentive payments.  Importantly, this set of requirements mandates the integration of Application Programming Interfaces (“APIs”) to streamline the flow of information between providers and patients.

These proposed changes could facilitate patients’ collection of their EHR information from multiple providers and incorporation of such information into a combined portal or personal health record. They could also improve access to a patient’s EHR data by the patient’s providers and reduce the administrative burden to transfer records between non-interoperable IT systems.  The “Promoting Interoperability” program is a part of a larger effort by CMS to create a patient-driven healthcare system that provides high quality care and eliminates outdated and redundant regulatory requirements.