Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services released the proposed guidelines for Stage 2 of Meaningful Use. This release also marks the beginning of 60-day comment period in which HHS will be soliciting feedback regarding the possible rules.

As with any great sequel– the proposed Stage 2 criteria will expand on the foundation laid by the original set of guidelines.

“The proposed rules announced today will continue down the path stage 1 established by focusing on value-added ways in which EHR systems can help providers deliver care which is more coordinated, safer, patient-centered, and efficient,” said Dr. Farzad Mostashari, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

In addition, he said the proposed rules “emphasized the desire to increase health information exchange, increase patient and family engagement, and better align reporting requirements with other HHS programs.”

Although the new set of guidelines will translate into providers and hospitals investing more time and money into their medical records systems, many view the new rules as a benefit to the industry, especially health care IT vendors.

David Stinner, president of AEHR vendor US itek Group, said he believes that the Meaningful Use guidelines will benefit not only vendors, but also the entire health care field as a whole. Stinner likens the switch from paper records to the switch by architects from blueprints to computer assisted drawing (CAD) software.

“In the late 80s and early 90s, architects moved away from pen-and-paper and to using CAD. There (were) tremendous advantages to going computerized with CAD to the extent where you don’t find any architects not using CAD today,” he said.

The basic structure of the guidelines for Stage 1 has been maintained with providers striving to meet 17 core objectives and three out of five menu objectives. All of the menu items providers had to select from under Stage 1 have become required core objectives under Stage 2. Hospitals will have 16 core objectives and two of four menu objectives under the proposed new guidelines.

Officials said the purpose of continuing to include menu items in the Meaningful Use guidelines was to allow flexibility for providers and hospitals in meeting the new rules.

In another extension of a concept introduced in Stage 1 guidelines, Stage 2 rules attempt to build and expand existing Heath Information Exchanges (HIE). To qualify for Stage 2 credit, providers must “connect to at least three external providers in a ‘primary referral network’ or establish a bidirectional connection to at least one health information exchange.”

In addition to health care information being shared among healthcare organizations, the proposed Stage 2 rules encourage providers to share health information with patients. Under the proposed rules, eligible hospitals must provide 80 percent of patients the ability to securely download information relevant to their visit within 36 hours of discharge. Providers must be able to show that at least 20 percent of their patients could securely access their personal health record online.

In addition to the solicitation of comments, the release of the proposed Stage 2 guidelines calls for health care industry stakeholders to submit answers to a series of seven questions, ranging from “How can electronic progress notes be defined in order to have adequate specificity?” to “Should Stage 2 allow for a group reporting option to allow group practices to demonstrate meaningful use at the group level for all (eligible providers) in that group?”