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Q&A with CCHIT's New Chair, Karen Bell, M.D.

April 13, 2010
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HCI catches up with Bell to discuss the challenges facing hospitals and her plans with CCHIT.

On Monday, April 12, the nonprofit Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) announced the appointment of Karen M. Bell, M.D., as the new chair of the volunteer-based CCHIT, to replace the outgoing Mark Leavitt, M.D., Ph.D., who had been CCHIT’s chair since the certification organization was created in 2004.

Bell, who officially takes over the chairpersonship on April 26, has had broad experience in both the public and private sectors in healthcare. Most recently, she served as senior vice president, HIT services, for the Massachusetts Quality Improvement Organization (Masspro), where she oversaw the development, implementation, and distribution of products and services to support the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). She has also worked for such organizations as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maine, and Partners Healthcare, Boston. From 2006 through 2008, Bell was the representative of the federal Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) on the board of CCHIT.

Following the announcement of her appointment Monday, Bell spoke with Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding her assumption of the chairpersonship of the organization, and her perspectives on current developments related to CCHIT’s activities.

Healthcare Informatics: Were there any unstated reasons for Dr. Leavitt’s departure?

Karen Bell, M.D.: No, not at all. When CCHIT began running, Dr. Leavitt committed to serving as chair for three years, and ended up agreeing to five. So we were very lucky to have his service for that period of time.

HCI: What made you decide to accept this post?

Bell: Well, I had been in federal service for a number of years. And I’d been a commissioner at CCHIT for over three years, and had come to understand what this might entail, and knew that this would be a good group to work with; so it’s an opportunity to pursue my passion, and to pursue my agenda, with a wonderful group of people.

HCI: What is your perspective on the challenge facing hospitals and other providers as they grapple with meaningful use, and have to deal with the fact that a final rule has not yet been published that will provide the go-ahead for meaningful use-based validation of vendor product choices, when the providers have to move quickly to be able to attest meaningful use for 2011?

Bell: Any product that the certification commission has certified to date is obviously going to be a safe product, and there’s obviously no question about that. And the other question involved here, and which I asked about during my interview process, was, what are the resources? So that it’s not the certification commission that would be a barrier to meeting meaningful use. The reality is that the commission is prepared, both through its preliminary certification program and its more robust process, to meet the needs of providers. So we’ll meet that through both the virtual program and the onsite program. We’ll have to move quickly, there’s no question about it. The fact that Mark [Leavitt], Alisa [Ray, CCHIT’s executive director], and myself will all be pulling together, means the transition will be smooth here.

HCI: Will there be a relaxation of timeframes based on provider input to the final rule?

Bell: One never knows; but, based on the volume of input, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some relaxation, particularly around timeframes and eligible providers. And until the final rule comes out this spring, one never knows.

HCI: Does CCHIT support relaxation?

Bell: I think that the CCHIT did put out some comments about what might be better, to a small degree. But the bottom line is that the organization is prepared to support whatever is in the final rule, and stands ready to move forward.

HCI: Do you plan any policy changes from Dr. Leavitt’s policies?

Bell: I think as I get more into place, there will be opportunities to look at policies. But the most important thing right now is to make sure that the processes in place will be supported for now. Later on, we will of course have to be flexible to adapt to changes in the environment.

HCI: What would you like to say to hospital and health system CIOs?

Bell: We know that some hospital organizations have systems in place where vendors might possibly not be able to meet the meaningful use criteria. And many hospitals will be working with the vendors to bring them up to speed, and we will work with them to make sure that they get up to speed. We will not be a barrier.