HHS a Lock to Certify EHRs

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would almost certainly assume responsibility for deciding which electronic health record systems qualify for bonus payouts under Medicare, as called for by ARRA, the economic stimulus program that went into effect last winter.

The announcement amounted to a very bad day for the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT), a private certification group that had monopolized the EHR certification process since its inception in 2004.

CCHIT has been under withering attack since last spring when it came to peoples’ attention that it was derived from a trade group that was run by members of the very EHR vendors that stood to gain most from the Federal largesse.

That group, known as the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), had lobbied successfully to assure that ARRA funds would be set aside to encourage widespread dissemination of EHRs.

The so-called HITECH provisions in ARRA permit physicians to receive up to $44,000 if they demonstrate “meaningful use” of a certified EHR beginning in 2011.

CCHIT was chartered by HIMSS and 2 other associations. Recently, it had begun receiving HHS funds to carry out its work.

Beginning last May, critics of CCHIT, including bloggers David Kibbe and Brian Klepper raised concerns that conflicts of interest could undermine the group’s credibility as a certification agency and potentially hinder innovators in the space, including companies like Practice Fusion.

“There was an apparent conflict…we don’t want to spend the next several years on a sideshow,” Paul Egerman told the Washington Post.

Egerman, the co-chair of ONCHIT’s HIT Policy Committee which first floated the concept of a new role for HHS added, “our energies need to be focused on the substantial challenges involved in getting physicians to use these systems effectively while earning the public’s trust in the privacy and integrity of these systems.”

Final approval for the sea change will come after a public comment period, which is currently underway.

CCHIT chief executive Mark Leavitt acknowledged the setback, while adding his organization will continue to certify EHR technology as per the terms set forth by HHS.

He also said that CCHIT will offer a “higher level of certification that includes HHS but goes beyond” to help medical organizations shop for the best systems, while providing technical advice to the government,” according to the Post.

No word from HHS on that Hail Mary.

Glenn Laffel MD, PhD, Sr. VP Clinical Affairs, Practice Fusion

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