A new chapter was opened in the history of healthcare information technology on July 18, when the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT), a not-for-profit organization, announced the results of its first round of certifications for ambulatory care electronic health record (EHR) products.
Twenty-one EHR products (see chart on following page) achieved certified status after inspections that demonstrated their compliance with the organization's published criteria (see the CCHIT's Web site for further details on criteria and other technical details: http://www.cchit.org).
With Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt present at a gathering held at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to congratulate winners, CCHIT Chair Mark Leavitt, M.D., Ph.D. (no relation) praised the vendors that had participated in the process, and declared satisfaction with the CCHIT vendor certification process to date.
"This is a big day," Mark Leavitt told the assembled audience. "To the extent that there's any symbolic value in having the Secretary of Health and Human Services at an event, I think I've accomplished something. This is the center of the universe in health IT today."
Vendor executives whose products have passed muster say they welcome the increased clarity around core elements of functionality in ambulatory electronic health records, now that certification in that area has become a reality.
"What will occur now from a communications standpoint is that the message will begin to go out to the consumers of these products, the physicians, that certification exists, that products are certified, and that you should be looking for the 'Good Housekeeping seal of approval,' if you will, and should use the criteria embedded in that process," says Lee Shapiro, president of Chicago-based Allscripts.
What's more, certification will likely reduce the number of vendors in specific areas, as companies that can't meet the criteria will fall by the wayside, says Dan Michelsen, Allscripts' chief marketing officer. "It's clear that there won't be the 400 vendors in the market that people have predicted in the past," he says.
As for the process of becoming certified, vendor executives say it was disciplined and fair. "It certainly was quite rigorous," says Sarah Corley, M.D., chief medical officer at Horsham, Pa.-based NextGen Healthcare Information Systems. "There were two parts to the process, and they were very different. The actual testing of the scenarios was very similar to what vendors would go through in doing a sales demonstration," going through a patient visit, and documenting it, she says. That part was straightforward, and the volunteer jurors were well-prepared.
More complicated was the security self-attestation, which required more work. But the process was nonetheless "satisfactory, and was done in a timely fashion, and the expectations were made clear," she says. Corley says that the additional functional requirements to come out in 2007, 2008 and 2009 "will drive development going forward."
As for the next phase of CCHIT certification for inpatient vendors, which it is hoped will launch next year, "We're just starting the development of criteria for them," Mark Leavitt says. But, he adds, "The workgroup is talking initially about the medication administration chain — CPOE (computer-based provider order entry), pharmacy, dispensing, medication administration," with a discussion focusing around quality and safety.
In any case, he says, the criteria that are developed on the inpatient side will help clarify choices around functionality for the purchasers of information systems across the industry.
Mark Hagland is a contributing writer based in Chicago.