Medical Assistants, Credentialing and Meaningful Use: What You Need to Know

ElizabethLauzonBy Elizabeth Lauzon, Public Relations Coordinator, SCG Health
Twitter: @SCGhealth

There’s a great deal of focus being spent on a national standard for credentialing of medical assistants and or certification for scribes. And when it comes to Meaningful Use and certified electronic health records (EHRs), there are lots of questions surrounding the topic. So let’s work on clearing up a few of them.

What are the credentialing requirements for medical assistants and/or scribes?
As of January 2013, only certain clinical staff are permitted to enter medication, radiology and laboratory orders into the EHR to count toward meeting Meaningful Use thresholds. Meaningful Use guidelines from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) state:

“Any licensed healthcare professionals and credentialed medical assistants can enter orders into the medical record for purposes of including the order in the numerator for the objective of computerized physician order entry (CPOE) if they can originate the order per state, local and professional guidelines.”

This requirement ensures orders are entered by someone who can exercise clinical judgment should the entry generate a drug interaction alert or other clinical decision support aid. This necessitates having the entry occur when the order first becomes part of the patient’s medical record, and before any action is taken on the order.

CMS doesn’t specify a particular credentialing agency for medical assistants. But it does say credentialing must be obtained from an organization other than the employing agency.

Here’s what we know. Most states do not yet require licensing of medical assistants. Likewise, scribes are not a licensed healthcare profession yet. Thus, you can turn to education and certification programs to meet these requirements. Some community colleges have started certifying their medical assistants and several national programs exist for certifying medical assistants and scribes.

What about scribes?
Because scribes aren’t licensed or credentialed, their qualifications can’t be guaranteed. For this reason, scribes (without further education) aren’t qualified to enter orders in the EHR under CMS guidelines. BUT, if they get a certification they then can qualify for order entry. Numerous certification entities exist across the country, some are specialty specific and others are more broad. The key fundamental to the certifications is training on medical terminology, system awareness (terminology) and typing skills.

How can I avoid a CMS audit?
To qualify for payments under EHR incentive programs, providers must present documentation of all orders, many of which are automatically entered by the EHR system. If auditors find an order was entered by someone other than a licensed professional or credentialed clinical staff, it could constitute a violation of CMS guidelines. It’s also possible the entry wouldn’t count toward meeting Meaningful Use thresholds. As a result, the eligible professional may not meet all core objectives required to receive an incentive.

Remember, credentialed medical assistants and scribes benefit your organization by providing a reliable quality assurance mechanism, more efficient use of resources, and more EHR entries counted toward CMS incentive programs. So check them out. And be sure to keep documentation of the licensure and credentialing of any staff doing order entry, just so that you are ready for an audit.

This article was originally published on the SCGHealth Blog and is republished here with permission.