News Briefs

Four physicians honored for end-of-life care

A surgeon and a pediatrician are among the four American physicians have been named as recipients of the first Hastings Center Cunniff-Dixon Physician Awards.

The awards were given by the Cunniff-Dixon Foundation, whose mission is to enrich the doctor-patient relationship at the end of life, in partnership with The Hastings Center in Garrison, NY.

Robert A. Milch, MD, FACS, of The Center for Hospice and Palliative Care, near Buffalo, NY, will receive the established physician award of $50,000. He has been involved with hospice and palliative care for more than 30 years, most of it at Hospice Buffalo, where he initially served as a volunteer medical director.

Early-career physician awards of $15,000 each will be given to Elisabeth Potts Dellon, MD, MPH, of the University of North Carolina; Jeffrey N. Stoneberg, DO, of San Diego Hospice and The Institute for Palliative Medicine; and Eytan Szmuilowicz, MD, of Northwestern Medical Center in Chicago.

The Cunniff-Dixon Foundation was founded in 2005 by Matthew A. Baxter in memory of his wife, Carley Cunniff, who died of breast cancer, and her attending physician, Peter S. Dixon, MD, who has a private practice in Essex, CT.

"He was the guiding light who enabled her to die a peaceful death at home with her family and loved ones," said Baxter in a statement from The Hastings Center news release.

CMS, ONC issue EHR definition

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in late 2009 issued two regulations - for which they are seeking public comment — regarding "meaningful use" of electronic health records (EHRs).

The regulations are designed to help implement the EHR incentive programs enacted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

A proposed rule issued by CMS outlines proposed provisions governing the EHR incentive programs, including defining the central concept of "meaningful use" of EHR technology.

An interim final regulation (IFR) issued by ONC sets initial standards, implementation specifications, and certification criteria for EHR technology.

Both regulations are open to public comment.

"These regulations are closely linked," said Charlene Frizzera, CMS acting administrator in a news release issued by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. "CMS's proposed regulation would define and specify how to demonstrate 'meaningful use' of EHR technology, which is a prerequisite for receiving the Medicare incentive payments.

"Our rule also outlines the proposed payment methodologies for the Medicare and Medicaid HER incentive programs. ONC's regulation sets forth the standards and specifications that will enhance the interoperability, functionality, utility, and security of health information technology," Frizzera said.

The IFR issued by ONC describes the standards that must be met by certified EHR technology to exchange health care information among providers and between providers and patients. This initial set of standards begins to define a common language to ensure accurate and secure health information exchange across different EHR systems.

The IFR describes standard formats for clinical summaries and prescriptions; standard terms to describe clinical problems, procedures, laboratory tests, medications, and allergies; and standards for the secure transportation of this information along the Internet, according to the HHS news release.

The IFR calls for the industry to standardize the way in which EHR information is exchanged between organizations and sets forth criteria required for an EHR technology to be certified. These standards are designed to support meaningful use and data exchange among providers who must use certified EHR technology to qualify for the Medicare and Medicaid incentives.

Under the statute, HHS was required to adopt an initial set of standards for EHR technology by Dec. 31, 2009. The IFR will go into effect 30 days after publication, with an opportunity for public comment and refinement over the next 60 days. A final rule will be issued in 2010.

The American Medical Association issued a statement by board member Steven J. Stack, MD, who said, "The AMA is committed to HER adoption that streamlines physician practices and helps them continue providing high-quality care to patients. We will carefully review the proposed rules on standards for HER use and incentives and provide our formal comments before the 60-day comment period ends."

"We have provided ongoing input this year on standards for the use of EHRs, and have stressed the importance of realistic time frames for adoption, the removal of extraneous requirements that would delay successful adoption and reasonable reporting requirements.

"We want physicians in all practice sizes and specialties to be able to take advantage of the stimulus incentives and adopt new technologies that can improve patient care and physician workflow."

NHPCO commissions book for the seriously ill

The "Legal Guide for the Seriously Ill" - a project by the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging commissioned by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) — was designed for both the seriously ill individual and those caring for someone who is seriously ill.

The guide explains "Seven Key Steps" while offering additional tips and resources for readers looking for more detailed information and guidance.

The recently released guide addresses societal issues that have gained prominent media attention in recent years, such as paying for health care, managing health and personal decisions, and patient rights.

In addition, the Legal Guide for the Seriously Ill is designed to shed light on recent legislative and regulatory changes, such as the recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provides a 35% subsidy of the COBRA premium for up to nine months, according to a NHPCO release.

The NHPCO said "the views expressed in the book have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association and, accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the ABA.

Ellen M. Klem, staff attorney of the ABA Commission on Law and the Aging, indicates that the book does not give legal advice, but is designed to "arm readers with knowledge about the options they have during this difficult time."